Rosa María Fischer
FEA-USP Sao Paulo
This case describes a collaboration forged by business companies, communities, governments and universities to promote the sustainable utilization of Brazil’s biodiversity assets. The result is a highly complex alliance on account of the number of partners involved, the physical and cultural distance separating them, the complexity of current legislation, the fact that it is an innovative approach, and the partnership’s intricate purpose.
In the alliance described, Natura Cosméticos used the knowledge it had acquired in other collaborative social initiatives. The lessons learned by the company notably included a clear definition of partners’ roles, the creation of specific mechanisms to communicate goals and outcomes, the evaluation of partners’ performance, the decision to maintain or terminate partnerships, and a number of strategies to emancipate alliance beneficiaries.
Natura’s partner company, Cognis, contributed its knowledge on the use of natural resources, as well as its organizational values, based on sustainable business practices. In other projects, Cognis built a number of relationships that translated into a sound understanding of traditional knowledge-holding communities that Cognis brought to this alliance, serving as foundation for new learning processes.
Community partners brought the information and experience of natural produce utilization to the alliance, doing their share to accommodate market and Natura’s standards at the supply chain. In exchange, they learned new ways to organize themselves, to manage their work, to improve their living conditions and to secure their livelihood in a self-sufficient, lasting manner.
The certifying agency IMAFLORA learned that its knowledge did not always suffice to understand such a complex and diverse set of partners. IMAFLORA came to understand that the Ekos project network was far more intricate and unique than the projects it had been involved in previously. As a result, IMAFLORA’s team acquired new experience in the formulation of rules to handle and certify sustainable products and processes.
This alliance relied on the ability to use acquired knowledge and to remain open to new learning. As a result, the notions of organizational learning and learning organizations prove key for case analysis and are explained in this case, as well as the underpinning concept of strategic cross-sector partnerships. Thus, class participants are guided to reflect on the practices and knowledge associated with a corporate social entrepreneurship scheme that drives the survival of participating organizations.
This case describes the creation and management of a collaborative alliance involving several partners. It presents the dilemma faced by Natura’s managers, who must determine how to further the company’s business and social success, upholding the values embedded in its organizational culture, mission, and strategies.
How can the company balance its search for significant business results with the corporate responsibility actions required and the stakeholders involved in the Ekos line? How should it choose its partners and establish their roles in these initiatives? What drivers have Natura and its partners identified as safeguarding their partnerships’ effectiveness and value? How can Natura engage partners with such diverse cultures in a single effort to ensure organizational and community sustainability? Can the alliance serve, incorporate and add value to stakeholders so diverse as the producing Amazonia and the consumer market? These are the questions class participants have to explore in this case.