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Canberra, Australia, December 18, 2017 — Ten projects have been awarded funding of up to $500,000 Australian dollars ($377,000) from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through round two of their business partnerships platform, or BPP.

Round two funded projects include a Fairtrade Australian and New Zealand and Krissy Co. partnership to improve access to markets for smallholder coconut farmers in Samoa, a partnership between Oxfam International and Bangladesh SME Corporation Limited to improve the dairy sector and promote sustainable energy use in Bangladesh, a partnership between the Mennonite Economic Development Associates and East-West Seed to create new markets for seeds and vegetables in Myanmar, and MEDA and Engro to partner in inclusive seed systems for Pakistan.

The winners provide an important opportunity for future funding partners to understand what makes a successful application. And to provide insights into the application process, Fairtrade Australian and New Zealand, Oxfam and MEDA spoke with Devex about what they believe made their projects and partnerships stand out from the BPP pack.

Understand DFAT’s priorities

Molly Harris Olson, chief executive officer of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand, said that understanding DFAT’s priorities was a key strategy in tailoring an application that would stand out.

“We have had a partnership with DFAT for the past three years and are very well aware of what they are trying to achieve with their overall objective for development in the Pacific,” Harriss Olson said. “The BPP program in particular is aimed to engage business partnerships — and we work closely with business all through our supply chains.”

By having a strong understanding of DFAT’s priorities in the Indo-Pacific, they were able to identify and put forward a project they believed was ready to scale up and make a difference in Samoa and easily communicate the benefit to the aid program.

“It makes a tremendous difference when an organization like DFAT understands the benefits of this to achieving their own goals,” Harriss Olson said.

For MEDA, there were keywords they chose to focus on in their application for their Pakistan partnership — smallholder, impact, return on investment in social impact. Combined with their targets to support 400 landholder women, their project and partnership was able to tackle many important priorities of DFAT and the Australian aid program.

Dr Khalid Hossain, economic justice resilience program manager for Oxfam in Bangladesh, explained to Devex that their submission was strongly focused on alignment with DFAT’s aid investment plan for Bangladesh and priority sectors of the BPP.

“Initiatives need to support DFAT’s aid objectives in a particular country or region, and align to the priority sectors identified,” Hossain said. “Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment are also key priorities for DFAT, and this was a key driver for Oxfam and BSCL’s interest in the initiative. Potential projects should consider how the dynamics, concerns and interests of women and girls have been taken into account in the design of the business plan, identify and manage potential risks to women and girls, and deliver economic and social improvements to women and girls.”

Display a clear understanding of shared value

Hossain explained to Devex that the demonstration of a shared value is of clear importance in a funding program such as the BPP, and Oxfam was able to demonstrate this not only through their partnership but with an organization-wide agenda to improve outcomes through greater engagement with private sector partners.

“DFAT’s business partnership platform offered Oxfam and BSCL an exciting opportunity to formalize our collaboration on a project that demonstrated shared value for both partners,” he said. “Oxfam’s relationship with the private sector is an increasingly important focus of program and advocacy work. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives business a significant role to play in efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, based on its ability to invest and innovate. Oxfam sees the value in building relationships with the private sector to develop shared, innovative ways to tackle poverty. We understand that to end poverty, powerful and practical responses are needed. This means continuously reflecting on how we work and who we are collaborating and partnering with, to see where we can make the biggest possible impact.”

Majid Mirza, senior project manager with MEDA, said that feedback from BPP project managers Palladium and DFAT was that their projects were among the highest rated — and Mirza attributes their deep understanding of shared value which came across in the application process.

“For us, shared value is ingrained,” he said. “It’s in our blood. Our mandate is creating business solutions to poverty. We have an almost entirely private sector approach to development.”

The shared value approach of the BPP and DFAT’s commitment to making the shared value model work, Mirza explained, was in perfect alignment with their approach to development. Making this stand out in their application was then easy — and DFAT responded accordingly.

Make clear the roles of partners

A clear understanding of shared value should lead on to be able to clearly articulate the partnerships. MEDA’s Pakistan project for inclusive seed systems, Mirza explained, tried to respect their in-country partners.

“The technical expertise, which impacts people on the ground, is more impactful than administration,” Mirza said. “The customer, in this case the farmer in Pakistan, is only impacted when their income increases — and this requires the technical expertise to achieve this outcome. We follow the lead of our partners here. On the implementation side, which is administration, is where we take a heavy lead.”

Hossain explained that for Oxfam, their BPP funded initiative allowed them and BSCL to leverage the relevant skills, influence and expertise of each partner. The partnership supports dairy farmers to obtain access to finance to increase the productivity of their operations and Oxfam has formed dairy enterprises in Bangladesh, involving over 4,000 dairy farmers — 80 percent women. BSCL have developed a platform that enables small businesses to access funds from financial institutions.

“Oxfam and BSCL presented a strategic and long-term partnership which sought to leverage our complementary skills, expertise, and experience,” he said. “By linking their platform to the dairy enterprises formed by Oxfam, BSCL is able to reach a new market segment and offer services to hard-to-reach customers. This will generate revenue for BSCL through fees from participating banks, and banks will benefit by growing their loan portfolios and associated revenue.”

Demonstrating a strong focus on partnership that clearly outline the roles and value add of each partner that leverage their unique skills, Hossain said, is critical in demonstrating strong partnerships for DFAT.

Demonstrate the impact of partnership with DFAT

Mirza explained that there was clear expansion and impact that could come from partnership with DFAT that was shown in their application.

In Pakistan, Engro staff had been trying to convince the board to focus on smallholder farmers — but from a business perspective, they were told it was not efficient. The partnership with DFAT enabled the board to take a risk and focus on smallholder farmers. And Engro staff were given the opportunity to demonstrate business and social impacts their work could deliver.

For Fairtrade’s project, the partnership demonstrated the ability to expand opportunities for smallholder coconut farmers to reach new markets, allowing improved income opportunities and incomes.

“In a small community this project will create over 26 new jobs for Samoans, increase the income of over 200 smallholder farmers and there are many other ways this will have a fabulous impact on the coconut farmers in that part of the world,” Harriss Olson said. “It was designed to build on what we had done before but it was at a point that it was a great investment opportunity for DFAT.”

And Hossain said the BPP offered Oxfam and BSCL “catalytic funding and technical support” that would drive the project forward.

“For example, DFAT provided the services of a specialist business adviser to support Oxfam and BSCL to develop the business plan and ensure the model would be commercially viable,” he said. “The project leveraged over $500,000 [Australian dollars] from BSCL and $500,000 [Australian dollars] from DFAT allowing us to be more ambitious with our reach and scale in the early phases of the project.”

Without this funding, Oxfam’s initiative would have needed to be scaled back to make it financially viable with external funding sources.

Be willing to learn

Above all, Mirza said there was a need to demonstrate a willingness to learn from the partnership. MEDA in particular are already learning how to best approach partnerships and ensure all partners and on the same page.

Harriss Olson agreed — both Fairtrade and Krissy Co. were always looking for ways to improve and willing to learn from important partners including DFAT, she explained. And this was important in creating ongoing and sustainable benefits for the partnerships.

--This article was originally published by Devex by Lisa Cornish.

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