What does a poverty alleviation charity like Oxfam and a global food corporate like Unilever have in common? They are both serious about smallholder farmers. More than 2 billion people depend on small farms for their livelihoods; the majority of them struggle with poverty and vulnerability. At the same time, these small farms represent an under-utilised source of food to meet a growing global demand. With investment in skills, knowledge, networks, and technology, small farms could hugely improve their productivity and environmental sustainability.

The idea of working together on smallholder supply chains was born when two senior managers from Oxfam and Unilever attended a learning journey in Honduras as part of the Sustainable Food Lab. In 2010, their collaboration was formalised as a joint project called “Sunrise”, and Azerbaijan was selected as the first country in which they would attempt to build a sustainable supply chain.

The Sunrise team formed a plan to source onion powder from marginalised farmers for use as an ingredient in Knorr brand soups and stocks. Implementation of this plan proved far more challenging than both Oxfam and Unilever had expected. Menka Sanghvi and Mia Eisenstadt from Reos Partners have researched the work done and produced a case study sharing key lessons from this ambitious undertaking.

August 2014 was a ripe period for conversations about the future of Indonesia. In July, the country had held a successful election that saw a new government come to power, which during its transition period was urgently exploring the country’s most important opportunities and challenges. One crucial domain was the country’s energy sector and the many national and international trends that would affect the country’s social, political, and economic evolution.

In this context of government institutions, energy companies, and communities facing an uncertain future, the Presidential Working Unit for Supervision and Management of Development (UKP4) invited 28 leaders from across the energy sector to participate in a strategic conversation about this situation, in which they are stakeholders, and the actions they might take to address the future of energy in Indonesia. The participants included representatives from state-owned enterprises, private companies, and civil society organisations including Greenpeace, along with researchers, politicians, and public servants. Shell Indonesia and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), a German foundation, provided resources for the project. The result is the Bandung Scenarios—four scenarios of possible futures of Indonesia’s energy system.

“What I take is a deep appreciation for every voice in the room today…. It helps hold my passion in some way that there are other people who can genuinely speak with care about the longer-term outcome and vision for women and children. So much on general media is punitive and sexist and racist. Knowing there are other visions and sharing—that is what I leave with today.”
—Workshop Participant

Violence against women is an issue that permeates communities in many insidious ways. It includes family and domestic violence and sexual assault. It crosses socio-economic boundaries in every community and intersects with other complex social issues such as mental health, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and youth crime. Violence against women is a community issue, not just a women’s issue. In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the need to engage with perpetrators of violence against women. The thinking is that a proactive approach is necessary, one that goes to the source of the problem—the perpetrators of abuse—and that also involves working with young males in building responsible attitudes.

One of the initiatives emerging from the Southern Africa Food Lab seeks to create new ways for small-scale farmers to participate meaningfully in the economy. Launched in 2012, this initiative is currently prototyping five innovations in two rural districts of South Africa. A recent learning history by Reos Associate Karen Goldberg is helping all of us involved in the Food Lab to stay awake to how issues of power are not just “out there” but “in here” too.
The 1913 Natives Land Act relegated all African people to “homeland” reserves initially comprising just 7.3% of the total area of South Africa. Generally, the quality of the soil was poor, and this land degraded further over generations of subsistence farming. While the Land Act was repealed in 1991, its multiple legacies remain major challenges today. In the words of one of the Food Lab hosts: “The food system in South Africa reflects our current reality and the past. It is characterized through power, and power is about race, class, gender … Unless we put that in the centre of what we are doing, we are not going to shift the system.” 

[Picture: From left to right – a member of the hosting team (arm only), a small scale farmer, a researcher, an activist and a retailer build a model of the agricultural system]
Imagine for a moment a city that is the best place in the world for a child to grow up. What would it look like? Feel like? How would children grow, learn, and play? How would decisions be made and resources invested? What stories would be told about the value and role of children in our communities?
Thrive By 5: Calgary’s Early Years Innovation Lab, co-convened by the United Way of Calgary and Area and the Province of Alberta (Ministry of Human Services), has set Calgary on a course towards collaboratively seeking answers to these questions. In doing so, Lab members aim to transform the early childhood development (ECD) system in Calgary and drastically improve the statistics. Currently, one-fourth of the children in Calgary are not meeting key developmental milestones by the time they enter kindergarten. The Lab’s purpose is to ensure that all children grow, learn, and thrive by the age of five. In taking on this challenge, the Lab also aims to establish Calgary as the kind of city that knows how to collectively solve complex problems.

In 2012, Reos met with leaders across the community living sector in Vancouver, Canada. Our aim was to ascertain whether and how key service, community, and government organizations might better cooperate to help people with disabilities live a “good life.” In this sector, a “good life” is defined as the things that make life good, but are often hard to secure for people with intellectual disabilities: loving relationships and friendships, opportunities to work and contribute to the community, asset accumulation, self-determination, and other forms of integration into everyday community life.

Tanya Sather and Richard Faucher of the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI), a well-established organization serving 800 people with disabilities in Burnaby and the greater Vancouver area, shared with us their vision for continually improving BACI’s ability to support a “good life” for the people they serve, even amidst increases in demand and cuts in government funding.

We began working with BACI in 2013, first identifying key tensions and opportunities, and then setting a course for BACI’s “growing internally strong,” in Tanya’s words. Presently, the central focus of the engagement is to propagate “learning loops,” a practice and toolkit that regularly engages all employees in creatively and incrementally improving BACI’s services and operations.

The challenge is interesting, subtle, and rewarding. People with disabilities are highly individual, so BACI must continually adjust its services to meet varying and emergent needs, while also complying with government regulations and managing hundreds of employees. It is an incredible task.

The Electricity Innovation Lab, or e¯Lab, is a group of thought leaders and decision makers from across the US electricity sector who have come together to address critical barriers to the economic deployment of distributed electricity resources. e¯Lab is convened by Rocky Mountain Institute, an independent, nonprofit think-and-do tank whose mission is to drive the efficient and restorative use of resources, and is supported by Reos Partners.
The growing need for reinvestment in the electricity infrastructure, climate change and other environmental concerns, an increasing focus on grid resilience, and the rapid development of new business solutions to leverage the changing cost of technologies are fundamentally changing the electricity landscape in the US. As a result, rapid innovation—as well as change, cooperation, and conflict—are occurring at the “seams” in the electricity sector, where no single stakeholder or industry group can control the outcome. The most important new sources of competitive advantage in today’s rapidly changing electricity sector are therefore not technology or market position; they are the ability of innovators to work efficiently and effectively in complex multi-stakeholder environments. Shifting the electricity sector will require engagement and innovation across traditional institutional boundaries.

Communities around the world are subject to increasing shocks. These shocks range from the environmental, such as extreme weather events, to the fiscal, where public services are cut. In some cases, these shocks are predictable. In the UK, for example, it’s possible to figure out which communities will be hardest hit by cuts to public services, such as health care, well in advance of the cuts occurring. Where climate change is concerned, we are starting to see patterns—repeated flooding and heat waves causing extreme damage to property and, in the worse cases, loss of life.

There were many reasons to start looking at food insecurity in southern Africa in a new way, but the 2008 global food crises were the most compelling. Rapid food price increases sparked fears of supply shortages, initiated riots in several countries, and drew fresh attention to hunger and the struggles many households face to put enough—and sufficiently nutritious—food on their tables. This renewed sense of urgency brought people from across the food value chain into a Southern Africa Food Lab (SAFL), convened by Milla McLachlan and Ralph Hamann. The vision of the multi-stakeholder Lab is “a food system that nourishes the land and all people.” Its intention has crystallised into “generating creative responses to the problem of hunger. We facilitate dialogue between diverse groups to raise consciousness of the interdependencies and injustices in the food system. We foster novel ideas and commitments to enact positive changes for the food system to thrive.”

Over the past decade, many Latin American countries have experienced a rapid rise in the number of lawsuits that seek to protect people’s fundamental right to health. This “judicialization” of health is the result of a complex interplay of factors: Public health systems in the region are weak; the costs of providing good healthcare greatly exceed the resources available; and this gap between resources and need is widening. Meanwhile, other factors are converging as well: Citizens are increasingly informed about their rights and prepared to enforce them in court; the influence of the pharmaceutical industry is increasing; and judges often do not have the technical information and expert advice they need to make sound legal decisions in this arena.

Over the past three years, Reos Partners has supported the World Bank Institute to explore this phenomenon through a series of regional forums bringing together a diversity of stakeholders to exchange stories of recent cases and events, map out patterns, discover shared questions, and create innovative strategies to be tested and learned from in practice.