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Meet a Private Sector Focal Point: Gib Bulloch, Accenture Development Partnerships

Summary

First, a disclaimer: Labeling Gib Bulloch, Founder and Executive Director of Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP), as a “private sector focal point” is slightly misleading.

ADP is a group which employs an innovative not-for-profit business model as a means to channel the core business capabilities of Accenture – the largest consulting firm in the world. Through this hybrid model which resides at the nexus of business and civil society, ADP brings affordable business and technology expertise to the international development sector and promotes private sector engagement in sustainable development. In this context, Gib may better be characterized as a “cross-sector focal point.”

One of the ideas Gib and his team are promoting is the trend of cross-sector convergence, defined as the meeting of business opportunity with positive social, economic or environmental impacts on global development. Driven by growth opportunities in emerging markets, consumer demand in developed countries and the increasing need for companies to demonstrate a social license to operate, the trend of cross-sector convergence is about re-thinking the traditional roles of the sector in order to focus on new and innovative solutions to development challenges. Gib stresses, “There is a need to drive away from silos to systems. Business is getting into the territory of the United Nations and NGOs while, at the same time, the United Nations is becoming more business-like and market driven.” An interesting concept indeed, but how do you translate an idea into a working business model?

To answer this question, one needs to look at Gib’s background, as the idea of ADP was built on the DNA of both Accenture and his volunteer work. After joining Accenture’s strategy practice in 1996 where he worked as a management consultant to multi-nationals for several years, his transition to a development sector focus stemmed from a year spent as a volunteer, advising small- to medium-sized enterprises in Macedonia in the aftermath of the crisis in neighboring Kosovo in 2000. “I was very happy at Accenture, but there was something slightly missing,” Gib explains, “I had read about an international volunteering NGO called VSO who were looking for volunteers with business skills. Prior to this, I didn’t realize my business consulting experience could be applied in the development area – it was an epiphany and an eye-opener.”

Following this experience, Gib set to work to figure out how he could leverage the skills and expertise of Accenture while also designing a business model which was both affordable to potential clients in the developing world as well as cost-neutral, thus sustainable from the standpoint of the company. To sell this idea to Accenture, he spent months, together with friends and colleagues, to develop the business case in their spare time. “The business case wasn’t around bringing in business, but retaining and developing top performers,” Gib explains. “The term ‘corporate social enterprise’ meant nothing to people in 2002, but the idea was that you don’t need to leave a company to be an entrepreneur. You can create a business within a business which is both not-for-profit while, at the same time, not-for-loss.”

The group looked into which services to provide and at what prices. Keeping with the spirit of the VSO model, the team wanted to design a program where Accenture staff volunteer and take a salary reduction, while clients pay for the services at cost, thus significantly below market value. Gib explains, “For Accenture, the hypothesis of this model was based around the value of employee engagement, retention, leadership development and recruitment which may result from offering this type of experience to staff.” He continues, “This tripartite business model where Accenture contributes, the staff contributes and the clients contribute is the secret sauce…It would not be sustainable to do this pro bono, so we do charge the client. It means we can cover our costs. However, every dollar that client spends with us, they get five dollars in value.”

With a fleshed out idea in hand, Gib took it to the budget office to pass the final test – a feasibility study. Needless to say, ADP passed with flying colors and was approved in early-2002. Pilot projects were conducted in the middle of 2002, with the official launch following in 2003. Since then, ADP has been scaling up and, in the meantime, its self-sustaining business model has been used as an example of corporate best practice in social innovation in a number of publications.

Gib is quick to point out that ADP is not a development consultancy per se. They are more about providing business, management and technology expertise to the development sector, focused on regions with greatest need for these skills, but which have the least access.

Projects will often relate to organizational strengthening. For example, they completed a major supply chain review with UNICEF which sought to improve the efficiency of their anti-retroviral drug distribution globally. They also do a lot of work on information technology systems and processes and revamped the entire Child Sponsorship program for one of the largest NGOs in the world. ADP also seeks to bring new business thinking and new technologies to old problems. They worked with the African Medical and Research Foundation in Kenya to introduce an eLearning program to accelerate the training of nurses. Similarly, working with the GSM Assocation’s Development Fund and the likes of the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, ADP is using mobile phone technology for a range of different applications, from mobile banking or mHealth applications to weather information for farmers that can dramatically increase yields.

In addition to having a lauded business model, a dedicated team and positive results for clients, ADP has also contributed to achieving internal benefits for Accenture. In order to quantify these benefits, Accenture conducts an employee survey once a year on attitudes and well-being of staff. With respect to ADP, the surveys point to a direct correlation between staff who volunteered through ADP and the ability for employees to grow and learn, the likeliness for higher levels of employee engagement and the ability to take on more responsibility and autonomy. Moreover, some staff is attracted to Accenture just to take part in ADP, which can be an integrated part of their career where they use their core skills in the areas of strategy and logistics to make an impact in developing countries.

Besides the traditional projects working directly for NGOs and Foundations, ADP is increasingly finding itself playing a brokering and integrating role at the nexus of different sectors on projects that involve some of Accenture’s more traditional private sector, multi-national clients. ADP has worked with Unilever and Oxfam to integrate more smallholder farmers into Unilever’s value chain; with Barclays, Care and Plan International to support the delivery of microfinance solutions at village level; and with Vodafone on agribusiness applications for its mobile technology.

This cross sectoral role extends to ADP’s work with the United Nations, perhaps the best example of which is Project Laser Beam, a five-year public-private partnership led by the World Food Programme that seeks to eradicate child malnutrition with an initial focus on Bangladesh and Indonesia. It brings together the expertise of United Nations agencies with that of Fortune 500 companies, and others in the private sector, to work with local governments and companies on projects focused on food, hygiene and behavioral change. ADP was asked to play the integrator, a role which includes bringing business DNA (the “glue”), project management skills and performance indicators into the project.

Gib believes the UN has a crucial role to play in harnessing the latent power of the private sector and has a legitimate claim to be the ultimate “honest broker” when it comes to co-creating the right systems solutions, often together with competitors in the same industry, but who are willing to collaborate in a “pre-competitive” context. “Kraft and Unilever working together with WFP on Project Laser Beam is a prime example,” Gib explains.

“But this is a new paradigm for the UN and goes way beyond simply raising private sector funds from increasingly sophisticated cause-related marketing campaigns to be spent on public programs” he claims. “It’s about making value chains more inclusive, products more sustainable and about tapping into the intellectual property, technology and skills of business partners, which is a far cry from accepting pro-bono services or philanthropy. In my mind, we will need a root and branch review on how such services are best procured.”

So what does the future hold for ADP?

Gib is very optimistic and believes we are at a point of inflexion when it comes to private sector engagement in development. “In the next 10 years, I believe we will witness the emergence of a marketplace for development outcomes where competency will trump incumbency, where the focus shifts from incomes to outcomes, and where markets will play a greater role than historical mandates. “As a US$40billion, 250,000 person organization that works with most of the largest corporations in the world, as well as many of the largest development institutions, Accenture and ADP are well placed to be at the heart of these developments and help shape a brighter future for the many and not just the few.”

For more information, please click here or contact Gib Bulloch, Founder and Executive Director, Accenture Development Partnerships.