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Collectively Addressing SDGs to Change an Industry: The Case of the Water Revolution Foundation

Sustainable Development Goal 17 (Partnerships) concerns collaborative efforts between companies and societal actors. One potential collaborative effort that is often overlooked involves companies that join together to form a civil society organization, based on a common goal of creating positive social change through a non-commercial strategy. Such forms of collaboration for the purpose of creating positive social change are needed, as traditional ways of addressing grand challenges have proven insufficient. In this chapter, we draw on a single case study to discuss a particular form of partnership among companies within a specific industry. The partnership is formalized as an industry foundation aimed at creating positive social change. Hence, we examine the specific dynamics of such an industry foundation. This industry foundation uses collective power to leverage resources from the market sector and invest them across sectors in NGOs and social enterprises that can help to transform the entire industry. Such foundations can play an important role in helping companies align themselves to the Sustainable Development Goals. Based on this case, we draw three main conclusions. First, industry foundations can be differentiated from other non-commercial structures emerging from companies (e.g., corporate foundations, collective corporate foundations, industry associations, and multi-stakeholder initiatives) by shifting toward a collective of stakeholders within a particular industry, instead of around a particular social issue. Second, industry foundations face challenges with regard to legitimizing their public benefit, as they are vulnerable to questions concerning whether they are truly operating to the public benefit or whether they are actually private interests in disguise. Third, one major potential of industry foundations is that those involved in them are part of the industry—they know the possibilities and limitations of the industry, and they are trusted by others within that industry. This type of foundation can thus serve as a “coalition of the willing”, by bringing together front-runners who can actually accelerate change within an industry.

Table of Contents: Transitioning to Strong Partnerships for the Sustainable Development Goals