TRANSFORM: 10 million reasons to work together

EXCLUSIVE: Rebecca Marmot, Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer, David Woolnough, UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Deputy Director, Research, Tech & Innovation and Richard Taylor, EY UK&I Consumer Sector Leader outline the aims of an initiative to scale sustainable development.

TRANSFORM: 10 million reasons to work together

As we hurtle towards the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) deadline of 2030, many of us are applying our individual areas of influence and expertise to make progress towards a more sustainable, inclusive and healthier world. This is critically important. But, our collective action is even more so.

In 2015, TRANSFORM was launched as a new style impact accelerator led by our organisations: Unilever, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and EY. Working with a range of other collaborators, we support visionary entrepreneurs in Africa, Asia and beyond, testing and scaling new business solutions that tackle environmental challenges, improve health and wellbeing and build inclusive economies.

Today, as three leaders from those organisations, we are proud to mark what can be achieved by bringing together the breadth of our expertise, skills and resources with those of entrepreneurs working across the Global South. Eight years after our launch, we have achieved a programme milestone – more than 10 million people have been positively impacted by TRANSFORM-supported enterprises, including customers, employees and communities.

TRANSFORM’s success lies in its principle of reciprocity, embedded at the heart of our initiative. Bringing large organisations, with different perspectives and values together, can be challenging. Even more challenging is unlocking the knowledge and time of people within them. But by ensuring a mutual benefit for all, we’ve been able to support 100 projects with entrepreneurs and researchers scale their businesses.

As we reach this landmark of impacting 10 million lives, we want to share we’re actively seeking new collaborators to help us work towards reaching an additional five million people by the end of 2025.

TRANSFORM’s principles of reciprocity, which have been key to our success, are:

  1. Shared goals

All organisations are united around a shared goal that they cannot achieve alone.

While achieving the SDGs is the overriding aim for TRANSFORM, it also addresses themes that are relevant to Unilever, FCDO and EY’s priorities, complementing the skills and experience of all involved. Themes range from digital healthcare to sanitation, and achievement of these goals is locked into the reporting structure of TRANSFORM.

  1. Specific capabilities

All parties bring something specific and relevant to achieving the shared goals.

TRANSFORM offers social impact entrepreneurs a combination of grant funding, technical assistance and market connections to help turn their sustainable development solutions into thriving businesses. There is no one-size-fits-all formula, and each entrepreneur receives tailored support that suits their needs.

As a case in point, Bhumijo in Bangladesh received grant funding from FCDO, business advice from EY teams and marketing support and financing from Unilever. As a result, Bhumijo and the citizens of Dhaka, will have 1000 new public toilets by 2030, ten times as many as exist today.

  1. Innovation for all

All parties learn and ultimately benefit from the innovation that is taking place.

Too often partnerships are built using a donor–recipient model where unbalanced power stifles innovation. TRANSFORM is based on a desire to address urgent issues by learning from each other. Enterprises are not only creating business models for the future, but they are also directly solving challenges that are relevant to larger and more established organisations across the world.

For example, Hasiru Dala works with waste workers in India to collect and process waste and has created the first Fair Trade certified recycled plastic. With TRANSFORM’s support, the organisation was able to increase the capacity of its recycling facilities tenfold and, in turn, provide Unilever’s SunSilk brand with recycled plastic for its shampoo bottles.

  1. Benefit the global good

Learnings and insights are shared beyond the partnership to benefit others and accelerate development solutions.

Evidence and data are gathered at every stage of each TRANSFORM project, so all learnings are then shared to drive wider action. For example, we have been sharing learnings from TRANSFORM’s social enterprises on how to drive women’s economic empowerment, first at an event we held alongside the Skoll World Forum and now in a report to be published in the autumn.

As a consumer goods industry leader, senior government official and leader at a global professional services firm, the three of us never expected to be working alongside each other. But the chance to look at things from each other’s perspective is invaluable and is the only way we are going to rethink our existing systems.

The message we want to leave you all with is this: the ideas and the intent already exist – what’s missing is the ability to bring these ambitions to scale. And as leaders, the power to empower innovators and bring their solutions to the forefront is in our hands.

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