Shifting from Competition to Partnership in Private Sector Collaboration


The Millers for Nutrition coalition is working with 100+ millers and other partners to achieve an ambitious goal—getting nutritious, fortified food to 1 billion people by 2026.

One of the critical questions that Millers for Nutrition has grappled with is how to get private-sector partners, many of whom may be in competition with each other, to find common ground, build sustained, trusting relationships, and ultimately work together to support healthy food access for millions of people.

To learn what has worked to support private-sector collaboration, we talk with backbone team member Christian Pirzer from Endeva, and Yvonne Bakken from dsm-firmenich, a founding coalition partner. We explore what has been most helpful in developing these partnerships, and how they balanced the needs and considerations of the millers and other partners.

Ways to listen: You can listen below or on your preferred podcast streaming service, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast, iHeartRadio, Amazon, and other podcast apps.

Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

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The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we learn about the newly launched coalition called Millers for Nutrition, and discuss how they convened a wide spectrum of private-sector partners to look beyond competition and work together.

The Millers for Nutrition coalition is working with more than 100 millers and other partners to achieve an ambitious goal—getting nutritious, fortified food to 1 billion people by 2026.

To reach this goal, one of the critical questions that Millers for Nutrition has grappled with is how to get private-sector partners, many of whom may be in competition with each other, to find common ground, build sustained, trusting relationships, and ultimately work together to support healthy food access for millions of people.

To learn what has worked to support private-sector collaboration, we talk with backbone team member Christian Pirzer from Endeva, and Yvonne Backken from dsm-firmenich, which is a founding coalition partner. We explore what has been most helpful in developing these partnerships, and how they balanced the needs and considerations of the millers and other partners.

Moderating this discussion is my colleague Courtney W. Robertson, who is Director of Programs and Partnerships at the Collective Impact Forum. Let’s tune in.

Courtney W. Robertson: Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast. My name is Courtney W. Robertson, director of programs and partnerships with the Collective Impact Forum, and I’m your host.

A core tenet of collective impact and other collaborative approaches is engaging a broad set of stakeholders representing a wide array of lived experience and context expertise, content expertise in organizations and sectors. The private sector is an example of a stakeholder group that collaboratives both need and want to engage more meaningfully in their work but have not been as successful in doing so for a number of reasons, including the innate competition that exists among private sector companies. In this episode we are chatting with a relatively new coalition, Millers for Nutrition, to discuss how they have been able to bring competitors together in the private sector to collectively address global challenges with food fortification.

Joining me for this discussion are Christian Pirzer, managing director at Endeva, and backbone team member who’s based in Berlin, Germany, and Yvonne Bakken, senior partnerships manager at dsm-firmenich, and founding coalition partner who is based in the Netherlands. Thank you all for joining today.

If we could start by having each of you introduce yourselves to our audience, including in that your organization and your role as well.

Yvonne Bakken: Thanks, Courtney. My name is Yvonne Bakken, and I’m a senior partnership manager and group sustainability at dsm-firmenich, based in the Netherlands, and I’m managing our partnerships at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in this setting.

Christian Pirzer: My name is Christian Pirzer, and I’m a managing director at Endeva and have worked with the company for over 12 years. Endeva is specialized in facilitating system innovations that serve people and planet. We want to co-create a world where everyone thrives and for us this is a world with systems that are inclusive and regenerative, and to get there we work with partners from different sectors including private sector to innovate systems consciously and collectively to get to the future we want.

As a mission-led organization we are independent, and impact focuses, and this allows us to act as a trusted facilitator of co-creation in collective impact initiatives. Even among partners who would normally of usually not work together, collaborate, so as part of the Millers for Nutrition coalition the collective impact initiative that we will be talking about today, we closely collaborate with the nonprofit organization, TechnoServe, as the backbone team, and while TechnoServe focuses more on the implementation at country level, Endeva is responsible for facilitating a co-creation of partners around the design of the initiative and also to drive the learning agenda in the partnership.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. Thank you both so much. You mentioned the coalition in your collective impact initiative, so let’s jump into that a bit and set some context for the audience. Would love to hear just more about the coalition itself. What is the focus of it?

Yvonne Bakken: Thanks, Courtney. The Millers for Nutrition is a great initiative to put the millers at the center of combatting hidden hunger and addressing malnutrition. It’s also a good way to actually show the positive impact businesses can have on society to really make them the heroes of successful food fortification.

You might wonder what is food fortification and food fortification means adding essential vitamins and minerals to your diet, which is also in the staple foods, meaning in the foods that you normally eat in whatever country you’re based. Over three billion people in the world are suffering from deficiencies in essential vitamins and nutrients, meaning that they’re malnourished. Children and pregnant women in low-income countries are most vulnerable and food fortification is a very cost-effective tool to help solve malnutrition if it’s done right. And that means if it’s fortified at good quality with adequate fortified levels in the end product that results in a public health impact.

Food fortification is not a new thing and it’s been around for almost a century. It started in Switzerland and the U.S., with salt iodization to combat goiter. However, we haven’t really been able to reach the scale we needed to solve the global malnutrition that we’ve facing, and particularly in Asia and Africa there’s still high malnutrition rates.

Through this partnership or through this coalition we want to address three main staples, flour, oil, and rice, for both large and small amounts in Africa and in Asia, and then in Africa four focus countries, which are Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, and four countries in Asia, which are Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. We have an ambitious goal of reaching one billion people with nutritious foods.

Eight countries are obviously not a random selection but rather a selection of countries with high malnutrition rates, but also high number of people living there so that we’ll be able to actually reach many people.

As I said, also before, food fortification is not a new thing, and this initiative is of course building on many successful initiatives already done by government, by NGOs, by donors, but I think the new part here is that we’re really bringing the private sector, the millers at the center, bringing both the business case and also the impact that they can have on their local communities and really bring that scale that we’ve been lacking before.

Courtney. W. Robertson: Christian, you have something to add?

Christian Pirzer: Yeah, maybe just to add to what Yvonne is saying because I think it’s a very important point that food fortification is really not new and also what surprised me a lot when I first got into the subject is that actually in over 140 countries worldwide and food fortification is mandatory from a government perspective, so at least to fortify one staple.

But still, what we see is that almost half of the fortifiable food is not fortified adequately, right? And the reasons for this is that of course in many emerging developing markets, government enforcement is relatively weak, and the consumers are not really rewarding it because most of them don’t really know about the benefits of fortified food for their health.

So, Millers, who are actually those agents that put the fortificants, Vitamin A, Zinc, etc., the micronutrients into the staples, they lack incentives, or largely lack incentives to fortify, yeah, because the consumers don’t reward it, they can’t charge higher prices, and at the same time, the government doesn’t enforce it.

In the past, what has happened is that—this is a simplified perspective, but fortified foods were pushed largely to consumers through NGO schemes. So, as we know, this is not a very sustainable approach.

As Yvonne said, what’s happening here in this initiative for the first time is that we really look at millers and we put them into the center of the coalition, into the initiative and we try to change their incentive structures for them to adequately fortify. We are doing this by making fortification as easy as possible for millers, so we are basically providing them with a one-stop show solution with technical assistance, testing support, information, tools, everything they need to effectively fortify, and equally important, by making fortification more rewarding to them.

This is the business model element that Yvonne was talking about. Really building recognition, brand awareness for millers turns fortification into real business advantages. I think that is really what is new with this Millers for Nutrition coalition.

Courtney W. Roberson: Thank you for that additional context. From a partnership, the makeup of the partnership, rather, or coalition, if you will, could you all tell us a bit more about some of the other partners who are engaged in this collaborative?

Christian Pirzer: Yes, so key partners of this coalition are millers, as you said, so we work with both small millers, medium size millers, and obviously, large scale millers, because the more people or consumers millers reach, the more people can actually benefit from fortified staples. As Yvonne already said, we work in three commodities or food vehicles, oil, specifically for Vitamin A, and then flour and maize and wheat flour and rice. We work with these millers, we work with milling associations in the focus countries, and we work with global technical partners, including dsm-firmenich, but many more, also ingredient suppliers. We work with equipment providers. So basically all partners, private partners, that have an influence, that food fortifications scales and that more fortified foods are on the market. We also work with social business partners.

For example, there’s Sanku, a smaller nonprofit organization that specifically developed models that can aggregate small mills. So how can we find solutions also for the smaller millers and other social business partners like BioAnalyst for the testing, so identify testing equipment that is low cost and that can be used by smaller mills. In addition to these global technical partners, we have local technical partners that are in the countries that we are focusing on, like the African Milling School, for example, and of course, we work with what we call ecosystem partners, fortification ecosystem partners like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, all the World Food Program, that all have a key interest in seeing success in large-scale food fortification.

Coutney W. Robertson: Thank you for painting that picture. A lot of partners who are all in some way, of course, invested in the food fortification space, or to your point, Christian, have influence. I don’t imagine that it was you know, all roses and sunshine when you maybe reached out or approached folks about being in this space together in thinking about fortification. How did you all bring these different sets of partners together and what was that process like? What were some of the pain points?

Christian Pirzer: Maybe I can start responding to that and then Yvonne can add. The coalition was officially launched in October 2023, a couple of months ago. But getting there has been quite a journey as you can imagine and as probably also is true for most collective impact initiatives.

We actually started working on the design of the partnership back in 2021, and of course, we started with some research to identify opportunities, also to center the solution around millers. That was identified. We looked at good practices. Yvonne already said there are good practices in food fortification out there. There are also good practices on how to incentivize millers. For example, TechnoServe had run a multiyear program in Nigeria to build around an industry like Micronutrient and Fortification Index that actually makes fortification results of millers transparent or more transparent. And this approach builds on the competitive force of private sector. So the millers are competing against good results.

This has led to increased compliance rates from 60 percent to 90 percent, so it’s been a very strong success case. But it also has been quite costly because the TechnoServe, who has run the program, has implemented the technical assistance and has supported all the millers. To scale this approach, we need to leverage, or we thought we would need to leverage other technical partners that would be able to support the millers, technical partners that have an interest to support them with their own resources. That’s how we convened different partners that all have this key interest to drive food fortification, partners along the value chain, including also development partners that want to create health impact. With those partners we then started to co-design the coalition using a collective impact model, but also involving the millers in the design of the partnership. All of this took us almost over two years to get from the idea stage to the actual coalition being launched in October 2023.

Courtney W. Robertson: How many partners, Christian, do you have engaged in that space?

Christian Pirzer: I think as of now we have around 100 millers that started signing up, and of course, we have a number of technical partners, ecosystem partners. I don’t know the number by heart, but I would say we have around like 12, 14 technical partners both global and at country level. We have around six, seven ecosystem partners, and of course, the core is the millers, right?

Courtney W. Robertson: That’s super helpful even if it’s not exact because it does paint the picture for how this is a huge undertaking, right, like you all have already mentioned your cause in the two continents working across eight different countries, right, and this is representative of like 100-plus people, the organizations who are invested in this. That’s what a lot of the CI efforts that we’re familiar with that usually have upwards of 40-plus partners who are engaged in this space representing different interests, etc., so just like understanding the complexities of like who’s engaged in that space, so thank you for that. Yvonne, did you have something to add?

Yvonne Bakken: I think it’s also to add that it’s not a process where we started with sort of the 200 members in that sense but that has also been an incremental process to also start with champions in that sense, to start with the frontrunners, and then be at the center in front and then bring with them more members and then sort of slowly as we also increase our sort of knowledge base, our assistance that we can also add on more and more. I think Christian also mentioned this prior, almost thinking about the exit plan as we start, so also thinking about how is this sustainable, how will we make sure when all this sort of effort and investment that’s happening now is not going to just get wasted if those type of investments are pulled out that it actually ends up being a sustainable market that will continue even when all of that sort of initial bust is over.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thanks for uplifting that, Yvonne. I’m going to come back to that sustainability piece because I think that’s really important, and great that you all are thinking about that.
So I’m curious of sort of extrapolating on the question of how did you bring these partners together, what were some of the—or why would you say private sector companies would want to join in the coalition and particularly given that, as you all have mentioned, they’re competitors, right? So Christian, you mentioned the increased compliance rates because of the competitiveness but what was sort of some of the I guess carrot sticks that you all used to engage folks in this space?

Yvonne Bakken: I think that’s a great question, and I think it comes or it boils down to actually companies also having a bigger purpose in that sense, to really seeing that there is a goal beyond each organization’s sort of targets here, at least from dsm-firmenich we also have—we’re a purpose-led company meaning that we also feel that we have a responsibility to also contribute a sustainable development goal like zero hunger, and I think that’s also then recognizing this part that fortified food is a proven solution and why is it then that we haven’t reached that scale we need to reach yet. I think when we bring in a lot of the leading industry players here, I think more of them will agree that this is a good cause. We need to make sure that this is actually working but we need the full supply chain, the full value chain to actually work together.

I think that’s where even competitors are realizing if we just grow the pie, eventually that will be beneficial for every player. It shouldn’t be that we’re competing for the same piece but it’s rather making sure that there is a bigger piece and actually resulting in the public health impact that we’re claiming it will make because also then it will get more recognition and it will be beneficial for everyone involved.

I think it’s also thinking of first that longer term which is sometimes also difficult for businesses to have a quarterly target but then to think eventually this will make my business sustainable as well. I think more and more businesses are also pushed maybe also to take on more of that societal responsibility which also would help both from a reputation perspective but also would help even in sustaining business because I also think we’re focusing now on having children growing to their full potential that would be better for workforce eventually, but it should also be better for actually business because there would be more people purchasing whatever solutions. There will be more sort of growing markets when we actually make this come true. Of course that’s very long term but I think having some of that responsibility in the ground, I think that helps businesses to sign up.

Christian Pirzer: Just to add also from specifically the miller perspective, some of the learnings that we have gained over the last month or so is that for some millers it’s also very beneficial that we can help them to turn numbers in terms of the product, how much product they fortify, etc., into actual numbers of people that they benefit with the fortified foods because they can use it for their ESG or their impact reporting, etc., right? Or just for their community engagement so I think, and what I find very interesting here is that in some contexts, we were told that this is something that is very relevant for millers but other millers, this is the impact number, the impact figures were not relevant at all so they were purely looking at how can this also be a business case for me, that I fortify also compared to competitors that do not fortify.

So I think it is not a uniform picture that we see, and that’s also for us working across nine countries, these geographies, how we need to be very context sensitive in designing a service offer or support package for millers that really meets the needs of the millers in the markets that we work in.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you, and you raise another question for me, Christian, just thinking about across those eight different geographies. People are bringing so much into one space so what has that been like for you all? I’m thinking about it more specifically from building sort of the culture of the collaborative and what that looks like, and even what that looks like for learning across the different geographies.

Yvonne Bakken: We officially launched the coalition only in October so only four months back or even less, and then we’re also setting up country launches. Of course we’ve done some prework but that also—even at those launches I think that’s where we were seeing every country will be different. Every sort of setup of how we engage all the stakeholders for the whole ecosystem, and then each country will probably be done a bit differently, and it’s also as we’ve been talking about earlier as well, it’s not a new thing as such. Fortification is not a new thing so there are lots of initiatives. It’s also making sure that we leverage the right initiatives in the countries to make sure that this is not just another thing companies, millers need to do but it actually sort of builds on the work that they are already doing, being recognized for some of the hard work they’ve already put into it or help them on their way if they haven’t yet gotten to that point.

But obviously both from a branding perspective, and Christian can talk about all the sort of initiatives that we’ve done for marketing and communications, and that has been really looking into even the colors be recognized in the different countries. Will they appreciate that type of logo? Will they appreciate that type of picture that we use? We’ve also been very deliberate to bring in pictures from the different countries, big millers, small millers, it’s all supposed to be fitting for many different approaches, many different types of businesses, family businesses, industrial businesses, and then also from the country and the culture and the language differences.

I think that’s something that we’ll have to keep on working on and also see how that works, also where you link closely with sort of existing logos or existing sort of approvals from fortification and where you might need to set up new things.

Christian Pirzer: Just to come in with another perspective here is to use the collective impact language, the mutually reinforcing activities. I mean this has been a major lift for us over the last year to come up with activities like strategies for country-level strategies for each of our focus countries, and these strategies are very different because the contexts are very different, right? So all of this is very much contextualized although we have the same, let’s say, global objectives and vision for this, and also obviously we work with some blueprints.

I think it’s very important to say that, especially TechnoServe brings—that has operations in all the countries we work in, and that is facilitating the implementation of this partnership. They also bring in this very contextualized perspective, and over the last year we have pulled together strategies, intervention strategies, across the food vehicles that we are working, oil, flour, rice. I mean they are also—industries look very different, right?

When you go to Tanzania and you look at flour, you have thousands of millers. When you look at Nigeria and oil, you have only a handful of oil refineries, millers, that actually own I think 80 or 90 percent of the market so your entry point to convince these millers to start fortifying or to fortify adequately, it’s very different. The strategy is very different, and all of this needs to be contextualized so this is what we have been doing over the last year to come up with these very targeted intervention plans for each country that of course all feed into the same KPIs, performance indicators, that help us with the reporting but that are very context-specific.

Courtney W. Robertson: I’m so excited to—I’m just imagining a year from now, the learnings you all will have and how much this work would have progressed so I’m smiling because I’m like this is so exciting and complex, right? It’s not cut and dry in any way so kudos to you. I just want to name that this is very complex, what you all are doing, and I think in a lot of ways very innovative to bring folks together across so many different geographies, and then even with that there are subcultures and other things like around industry that are different as well. You all are figuring out how to support them and making it work so kudos on that.

I want to not necessarily pivot but this I think ties into as you think about culture, relationship building and trust building across these partners, and what does that look like for you all as you launch the coalition, and then sort of how you’re thinking about continuing to do that as the work progresses.

Christian Pirzer: So maybe to let me start this off, like how do we build trust amongst also competitors, both at the, let’s say, technical partner side but also on the milling side, right? I think that’s very interesting because when you work with private sector, and this is basically B2B it is a lot about competition so I think and can just share from our experiences so far. I mean as you say, we only started and there will be a lot of learnings down the line but so far, I can say that building trust happens or in our case happened through personal connections. I think that’s very important.

Also through professional partnership management, another thing that I think is very important, and through understanding and then also responding to the internal needs and pressures of the partners, yeah? In my point of view, at the end this comes down to the right attitude, how you collaborate, and the right tools and formats. I’m happy to basically give you a couple of examples of how we tried this or how we did it.

So from the beginning we used a Theory U approach to facilitate the partnerships, so this means be very co-creative, be generative in your practices, take a systems perspective, and we consciously designed the processes, the engagement formats, etc., between partners to enable our partners to connect as whole persons with themselves and with each other, and with the shared purpose, our shared objective, our mission as the coalition. We are using a lot of, let’s say, intuitive and playful methods in the workshops that we do that are influenced by neurological science.

So how can we move also from an abstract level to an emotional level to get emotional resonance, attachment, because that is ultimately in our point of view what generates ownership and what also helps you in difficult times because in these complex partnerships, you also have difficult times but the relationships, the trust that exists, that helps you to get through and to manage.

Just as one example that I wanted to share is like in our in-person workshops, and we do a couple of them, and we also do virtual co-creation sessions that allow the partners to connect on a professional and personal level but for example, in these in-person workshops that we call entrepreneur workshops, so you have entrepreneurs in an organization, for us these are intrapreneurs.

So what we do, and I think it’s a very powerful—just an example but an easy and powerful method is, for example, you have a group exercise where four people form a group, and all these people come from different organizations, from even competing organizations, like competitors. From these four people, one person shares his or her perspective on a certain topic. For example, his or her role in the partnership, in the coalition or the motivation that drives this person as part of the partnership, and the other three, they listen but they listen with different ears. One listens with an open mind with curiosity. One listens with an open heart, with compassion, and a third one listens with an open will, what we call courage, and then they play back what they heard. So the one with curiosity thinks about what is it that’s new to me, what I’m hearing here. This person is talking about his or her motivation so what are the facts that I’m hearing. The person that listens with compassion tries to look at the—what feelings do I sense when this person talks about their motivation. Where in my body do I sense this? And the one with courage tries to get a glimpse into the future so what can—what shines through? What potential do I also foresee from what this person is telling me for this partnership? And then they play back what they have heard in one minute, and it’s a very short exercise but it immediately, I have to say, helps you to create trust, connect people because they share something of relevance. They share something that is personal, and they get the immediate resonance from the other people, and this is very powerful.

Yeah, it’s an easy method that you can use to start creating relationships and trust among partners. Another thing that we do is journaling exercises that then allow people rather to connect with themselves. Why am I doing this? What drives me? What do I need also within my organization to sell this or to pitch this partnership? So you can combine these methods and they are very powerful to actually build these relationships and to get people on the same—behind a shared vision as well.

Yvonne Bakken: And maybe to add on that, I think from dsm-firmenich perspective, we have a few values, a few key values that we look for for why we partner so we look into the whole shared goal part that Christian already mentioned, and needs to build on trust, you know. It’s not a check-off in a box. We need to co-create the solution and it needs to reach scale, and that all sounds easy and straightforward, but it requires a lot of work. It requires very strong commitment, close alignment, and sometimes compromises.

I think we have a lot of experience in partnership but often bilateral partnerships and that’s at least—then you might have different ways of working but then at least it’s one party that you need to align with, and then at least you can come to some kind of compromises between the two. And adding lots more of course makes it even more complicated because then you need to recognize different ways of working not only of one party but also maybe different parties coming from completely different countries, different cultures, different company cultures as well. It’s almost like a different animal in itself, and then very different ways of working.

It’s like in a good relationship, you need to make sure that you’re communicating and communicating a lot, and then I also think it’s important that—in every relationship you’ll have a conflict at some point but then to actually address that conflict, to not let it pass because then it just grows, and definitely not address these conflicts by email because then you’ll have even more sort of misinterpretation. It blows up, you add another 20 people in CCs, and it becomes a much bigger things before you know it. It’s also important—I think Christian already said—by meeting in person. I think has been a very, very strong trust builder in this coalition, and also, I think for private sector companies, competitors coming together, it’s also to set the boundaries. Repeat the competition law, what is it that we’re not allowed to discuss, and why are we actually together so repeating that bigger goal that we’re trying to reach, this is the reason that we’re working together. We’ll have differences and we’ll still be competitors but together we’re trying to reach these and these goals so to have a big of a long-term focus on, OK, that’s why we’re here, that’s why we still need to overcome that sort of discussion or the conflict if you will, and then still look for that solution.

I think Christian mentioned all of these methodologies that they do to bring us together, but I think maybe even underestimating the power of having someone like Endeva in there because it’s a neutral party, and I think that’s a neutral party bringing us together gives us a safe ground. It’s one of our premises. It’s sort of they bring us together, they set the agenda, and I think that creates a trust, a different trust level than if it would have been one of the partners organizing all of that. I think Endeva has been wonderful in organizing these workshops and also setting it up in a different way that it will maybe, as you said, a lot of these types of getting to know each other, getting out of our comfort zones but also giving different types of feedback because you gave us a role probably takes us out of how we would normally do meetings or workshops together with colleagues, and I think that’s something that we shouldn’t underestimate in this type of setting that’s building trust. As I said in the beginning, it’s not a check in a box, it’s a continuous effort, and it’s something that will never be sort of only done and then you move on. As a relationship, you need to work for it because otherwise it will fade out.

Courtney W. Robertson: So many gems. What I’m gathering from this is like, one, you mentioned sort of—the things you mentioned, Yvonne, was more so for me around how are we managing expectations or how we’re going to show with these partners so we’re very clear about what our boundaries are. We’re clear about what our shared goals and vision are. We’re clear about how we’re going to get to that, and we can hold each other accountable. That’s what I’m hearing from you. And also to do things differently, right? So to your point, you all are meeting in ways that you don’t typically meet, whether that’s in your organization or across other organizations. Christian, I love that activity. I’m actually going to add that to my facilitation toolkit. I love that about—because what that does is it puts people in both conversation but also, I think a relationship in a very different way and allows folks to experience each other very differently, and even that piece around how folks are listening is really powerful, to listen from different perspectives so that you can offer those. I love all of that.

Yvonne, I’m curious, has your organization attempted to be a part of something that’s not necessarily around the same challenge or issue area but have you all attempted to be a part of other coalitions or collaboratives, and if so, how is this different from what you’ve attempted before or been a part of before?

Yvonne Bakken: As an organization I think we join lots of different forums, lots of different sort of business forums. We’ll join World Business Council for Sustainable Development and it’s more maybe focused on issues or jointly coming together where everyone commits, and I think this is a bit different in the sense that it’s really key competitors coming together, and then I guess that’s more sensitive of the other type of collaboration because what we often say in our partnerships, it needs to be complementary so we should be adding on values to each other but now actually we’re also bringing in a lot of the same.

I think maybe that’s also a challenge in this setup, and I think that comes back to the question of why would you actually come then together but it’s all about sort of realizing we’re all in here. We all try to stay in here but then it’s also by making sure that we haven’t reached that goal yet, and we still need to come together to actually go beyond that but it’s definitely also learning to be in this type of setting because often these sort of business forums, you’ll be further away. You can make like a statement, or you join a seminar but it’s not a partnership where you jointly have to work together this closely. I think that’s quite a different setting also for us, and also, I think we get—for the ones that are engaged in these workshops, we get very much sort of aware of why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, what the boundaries are, and I think now the next step will also be for us internally to help explain more to our colleagues why and how we’re doing this. I think it’s easy for the ones that are close to it and part of it, and now the next ones are the other ones, the next levels around that, and I think a lot of the successful partnerships we’ve had, part of the success has been because we’ve been able to sort of layer it in organizations.

So there’s been a top-level commitment but then also with the ones that are sort of directly part of it but also the ones that are indirectly impacted, affected, in any way, that they also know why we’re doing it. We’ve had lots of examples in other partnerships where there’s not necessarily a conflict of interest but more of a perceived conflict of interest, and this perceived conflict of interest is sometimes even more difficult to deal with than actual conflict of interest because the actual conflict, you’ll have lots of sort of firewalls to deal with that, but the perceived ones are the ones that can boil up and you don’t really know about them before they become a big issue. I think that’s also maybe when we especially work with competitors together, something that we need to be able to communicate very transparently about why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and it’s not to share any market prices or any sensitive information that we’re not allowed to share.

Courtney W. Robertson: Thank you so much for lifting that up because even translating this into a lot of our audience who tends to work in nonprofit space, there’s still competition around grant funding and other things, and what I often tell folks is that there also, to the point that you’ve raised, there are boundaries within organizations like people are still—although they’re showing up for this collective space, they’re still attached to an organization that has a governance structure, that has a board of directors, etc., and so there might be limitations on what folks are able to do or how they might be able to show up so to the point that you’ve raised around understanding what those are and then figuring out how do we work within those confines but also giving people grace because we are showing up with stipulations that are beyond our control in a lot of ways so I appreciate you lifting that up.

I think that’s just a good reminder that we’re all bringing everything from the personal to organizational and system into this one space trying to make it work, and that might take time, that might take some really difficult conversations. It may take lots of conflict or not a whole lot of conflict but just like people being aware and open to that.

Christian, you’ve got something to add?

Christian Pirzer: Yeah, just this element. I think it’s a fantastic segue and a very important point that Yvonne mentioned again about what I always call intrapreneurs, right? I mean especially you have it in all the large organizations. I’ve worked in the U.N., right? It’s similar but in the corporate I mean there are so many different cultures and priorities even within that one company, and now Yvonne being here, she is basically our key focal point for this partnership, but Yvonne has to fight her battles within her organization.

So I think also an important objective or important task of the backbone is also to try to, as I said earlier, sort of understand what are her needs, what does she need to basically sell this partnership internally because it might be very difficult for her, right? Because this is something new and if I really have the ambition, and I do have the ambition to transform corporate cultures because I want a new economic system, I want companies to not just—I want companies to do good. That’s all part of my mission, sort of changing systems and changing economic systems so if I take this seriously, I need also to help or to understand Yvonne’s needs to work her system, and she needs to trust me. She needs to be open to approach me with the issues and challenges that she is facing within her organization, and I can tell you these challenges are the same as in the other—like for the competitors, right?

All of them are facing the same challenges in selling this initiative internally, and then we as backbone, we have a responsibility to support them in addressing these challenges as much as we can so that’s why we include these little sessions in our workshops. That’s why we call them intrapreneur workshops where the partners can also discuss these challenges, like a case clinic thing style, and get additional expertise on how to solve these challenges. So we together should think about how to best manage the organizations that all of us are embedded in.

Courtney W. Robertson: Absolutely. I wish it were cut and dry, right? But it’s not and so definitely thank you both for lifting up those points. I’m curious- I’m going to ask this in like sort of two questions, and then I’d like to get it from each of your perspectives so Christian, you serving in the backbone role and then of course you, Yvonne, being a partner in the private sector space, for those who are wanting to engage the private sector in their collaborative, I want to think about this both from collaboratives that might be focused on let’s say education for example which is what you all do but you can definitely play a role in it. What would you say they should be considering? What would be a good first step for them to take in terms of engaging private sector in that work, and then sort of a second question around it or a different way of thinking about it, for other private sector companies who might be interested in forming some type of coalition to do what you all—similar to what you all are doing, what are some things they might need to think about or should consider?

Hopefully those are clear but again, thinking about being in a private sector space but joining in a coalition that may not directly be tied to the type of work that your organization does, and then joining in as a set of private sector companies wanting to address a challenge or issue.

Yvonne Bakken: I’m happy to go first here. I think as a starting point you definitely need to have a problem statement. You need to have some kind of issue that you’re solving, and that leads to then finding who else is actually wanting to solve that issue. Who do you have a shared goal with so coming back, I think we’ve said it a few times today is having that shared goal is something that you together want to solve because you can always come back to that and say this is why we came together in the first place. Even if you have different ways to approach it, that was the starting point. That was what you wanted to solve, and then realizing partnership is a win-win. It cannot only be one side of it winning, and then the other one feeling that they’re losing out always, so you need to have these—or if it’s several parties, it needs to be win-win-win-win depending on how many parties you bring in.

Then I think an open mind, as Christian said, even in these workshops, to also listen. Not only come with your own set of points but then try to listen to what the other ones are saying. Try to also learn. The whole partnership is a process in itself. I think, Courtney, you said earlier as well, it’s not a done deal. It’s not easy but that makes it interesting as well because you’ll learn a lot along the way, and you should bring that with you as well. You should take that as part of the partnership, and then have a long-term focus. Partnerships are not built just on a day.

With the relationship, you’re not married after the first date. You need to build up. You need to get to know each other, and you cannot expect results are just coming immediately. I think that’s also having some patience and also be ready for those conflicts. Be ready for those little fights but also be prepared to how to solve them. Don’t sort of turn the other way or close the door. Try to solve them, and then also think of maybe also at the starting point, an exit plan. How is this supposed to be sustainable?

Christian Pirzer: From the perspective as backbone I think we discussed about the benefits of having private sector involved in these initiatives, right? I mean I would personally think it might not make sense to involve private sector in everything, in all the initiative across all the sectors but specifically for areas where private sector plays a key role in fortification, of course they play a key role. They are the ones bringing the food to the consumers. They are the ones producing the fortificants and everything so it’s really an important private sector, and here involving private sector in the solution of course, as Yvonne said, gives us the potential for scale and gives us the potential for sustainability. To me both of these factors are extremely important if we want to change.

As a backbone, if you are serious about creating a sustainable partnership, you also need to give the private sector partners room to influence and to shape, and by that, you own the partnership and the solution that you are developing. So I think it’s very important. You need to be very intentional about involving them. For example, we involve private sector partners in designing the theory of change. It’s not that we designed the theory of change and then ask partners to join us. It’s not that we designed the governance structure and then basically look for partners. We intentionally develop these structures and the theory of change together with the partners in a very partly painful or sort of long timeframe. It takes time to do that, but I think it pays off at the end because then private sector starts owning the solution, and that’s what you need if you want to have something sustainable.

Yvonne Bakken: Maybe a last thing to add to that, I think this maybe also adds the starting point to a partnership is to—we always think of it, especially in a bilateral, it should be. if there are two parties, it should always be that one plus one equals more than two because it should always be when you can do something more than you could have done by yourself. Partnership is not a goal in itself but it’s rather a means to get to a goal. I think that’s also important because if you partner only to partner, then you get lost in talks and you’re not getting anywhere because as Christian said, it also takes a lot of time and effort, but it has to be one plus one is more than two because otherwise you’re already lost too much effort in making it work.

Courtney W. Robertson: Super. I feel like we can end on that. As a person with an engineering degree, I love your complex math there. One plus one equals more than two. I love that because it should be iron sharpening iron. We should be able to elevate each other’s both work but also in pursuit of the shared goal so I love that, and the idea that partnership is a means. It’s not just this thing, right? But it’s actually a means and it’s something that you have to work on. Really partnership and relationship should in a lot of ways be synonymous so appreciate that so much. As we wrap our time together, I have probably a thousand more questions that I’d like to ask but Tracy might side-eye me if I did that so just curious, and you can talk about this question in terms of how you’re thinking about sustainability but also both in terms of what’s literally happening next but curious what’s next for the work. I know you all recently formally launched the coalition but what’s next for the coalition, and how are you all thinking about sustainability of this work?

Christian Pirzer: 2024 is really about implementing activities in the eight focus countries. We have already started implementing last year but in 2024 we really need to proof the concept basically, and so our key priorities are to obviously recruit many more millers in our focus countries.

We onboarded around 100 now but just as a sort of test and start but now it’s really about launching the coalition at country level, in country contexts, and through that also getting more and more millers signed up to our platform basically, the service delivery platform.

Then also for me a very important point is to test our service offer with millers, right? The service offer, the whole theory of change that we have designed and the incentive structures that millers need to adequately fortify that has been developed together with millers but only a small subset of representative millers that have helped us to develop this but now as we are really implementing, we will see what works and what doesn’t. What works in India does not necessarily need to work in Nigeria, so we need to, based on that, learn and adapt our service offer. Based on maybe additional service needs that millers need to add, quickly fortify, identify additional partners that can bring these services to the partnership, and so this is all about basically learning, right? Because the coalition so far has been built on hypothesis and we are very open about this. I mean this hasn’t been done before in the way we are doing it, so we are also here to learn, to test, and to be relatively agile to adapt.

That’s why this learning agenda that we have is not something where we, you know, after two, three years of implementation, we start evaluating what have we achieved and what not, but we really want to learn as we go and continuously improve and continuously adapt to the needs that we see at country level.

Yvonne Bakken: I think to add on to what Christian was saying, that learning agenda will be essential here because it’s also—I think we’ve been talking also quite a lot about scale today, and I think if we pull out the right elements of that learning agenda, that’s also when we can really go to scale beyond the eight focus countries that we already have. The work can also be something that can be implemented in all the countries where it’s needed. I think that’s when we can call ourselves really successful.

We’ll get to the first set of points where we’ll need to start to measure how many people do we actually reach, where do we make the difference, where do we also make mistakes. I think it’s also about making mistakes quickly, learn from them, and then move on and change accordingly, and also not get stuck. This was the plan but then to say, no, that didn’t work so then change the plan and move according to that. I think that’s where you also realize how good the coalition, or the partnership is also in our ability to deal with that.

Courtney W. Robertson: Yes, my motto is fail forward, right? You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to stumble but make sure that you’re progressing and learning. Thank you all so much. Just a final question. Where can folks follow your work or get connected to the work that you all are doing?

Christian Pirzer: You can visit us on, our website, where you can also find much more information about this coalition and how you can connect including as a miller or as a technical partner. You can also follow us on LinkedIn on millers for nutrition.

Courtney W. Robertson: Awesome. Thank you, Christian. We’ll make sure the website links and things are linked to this episode once it’s released but want to thank you both, Yvonne and Christian, for your gifts of time and expertise today. This has been a wonderful conversation and hopefully you all feel the same. I’d like to thank our listeners for your continued support of the Collective Impact Forum podcasts.

(Outro) And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode. And if you’re enjoying all that we share at the Collective Impact Forum podcast, we encourage you to rate us on your preferred podcast platform, and share your favorite episodes with colleagues.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

In Forum news, we’re excited to share that registration is now open for the 2024 Collective Impact Action Summit, that will be held online this April 30-May 2, 2024. It’s our biggest learning event of the year, featuring over 25 virtual sessions, and sharing out best practices from collaboratives from across the U.S. and globally. And we’re excited to announce that our closing keynote will be with political leader and changemaker Stacey Abrams that will discuss the power of movement building.  Please visit our events section at if you would like to join the 2024 Collective Impact Action Summit.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast producer. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, let’s keep working towards collective impact.


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