In the company of revolutionaries: reviving radical innovation 20 years after the contemporary era of cross-sector partnering began

Bendell, Jem (2017) In the company of revolutionaries: reviving radical innovation 20 years after the contemporary era of cross-sector partnering began. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 66 .

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Abstract

The year 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first book that announced to scholars the rise of strategic partnerships between businesses and non-governmental organisations (NGO) to address both corporate impacts and contributions to sustainable development. In the Company of Partners (Murphy and Bendell, 1997), was also my first book, and written with Dr David Murphy, now the editor of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (JCC). It was because we considered such ‘cross-sector partnerships’ to provide exciting, though complicated and ethically complex, new routes for advancing sustainable development, that we were inspired to even consider writing a book. Over the following 20 years there has been a profusion of partnering practice and scholarship, on a wide range of social and environmental issues (Seitanidi and Crane, 2014). In that time, David and I evolved our own work to focus on other issues and practices, but maintained an interest in this field of strategic collaboration. Therefore, 20 years on seems an opportune time to share reflections, as I offer in this Turning Point and as David does in his Editorial to this issue.

Analyses of what has happened over a period of 20 years might typically look at the number, geography, aims, types, performance and criticisms of cross-sector partnerships. There are a number of studies which offer such overviews (Bitzer and Glasbergen 2015; Pedersen and Pedersen 2013; Seitanidi and Crane, 2014). However, what can be missed by such reviews is insight into the values, attitudes and emotions of the practitioners and scholars involved in a subject at any one time. The field of cross-sector partnering has been animated by people concerned with problems like poverty and environmental degradation. In that sense, the field is a ‘social movement’ (Bendell, 2004; 2009) and our interpretation of it can benefit from a movement perspective. One leader of the 1960s peace movement in the United States, Gregory Calvert, suggested that academic study often misses the emotion and spirit of political action: “Once a great people's movement has become a thing of the past, it is easy to forget or dismiss the spirit which gave it life and provided the inspiration that moved its participants to acts of faith and courage. Like a corpse seen as a 'dead thing,' a political movement can be dissected by historians, sociologists, or political theorists without ever discovering what made it live and breathe, what gave it hope and daring” (Calvert 1991, p. 58).

Calvert’s analysis resonates with a field of inquiry that focuses on enabling “reflective practice” by professionals, particularly in public-service professions (Schoen, 1987; Johns, 2002). The campus in the English Lake District where I am based has a century-long tradition of enabling reflective practice, whereby people seek to make new sense of their lives and gain insights on their practice. Inspired by that, one way I can contribute to analysis on the field of cross-sector partnering is by providing personal reflections on how this field has changed over time. I will start by explaining what it felt like when I began to work on cross sector partnerships 20 years ago, and explore what that approach could mean today. In doing so, I will suggest that the field of practice and scholarship has become conservative, aligned to maintenance of existing power relations which are themselves implicated in the social or environmental problems that cross-sector partners and scholars seek to address. Consequently, I will point to what a more transformative, potentially revolutionary, approach to partnering could involve in future.

Item Type: Article
Journal or Publication Title: Journal of Corporate Citizenship
Publisher: Greenleaf Publishing
ISSN: 2051-4700
Related URL(s):
Departments: Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
Depositing User: Anna Lupton
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2017 09:53
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2017 02:39
URI: http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/2683

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