Accenture Development Partnerships (ADP) is a not-for-profit consulting group within Accenture. ADP's main focus is bringing affordable business and technology knowledge to the international development sector and promoting private sector engagement in sustainable development.
How did you become interested in international development work?
In the late 1990s, I was working for Accenture in the Energy area. I was becoming quite intrigued about corporate social responsibility initiatives from an energy perspective. One day, traveling on the Tube to work at an energy client, I read an article about opportunities for people with business expertise to volunteer with organizations in the developing world. I spent a year on sabbatical as a volunteer in the Balkans just after the Kosovo crisis, helping small enterprises further develop their businesses. And I thought about how much more could be achieved if a company like Accenture could do something like this in a sustainable way.
How did Accenture Development Partnerships get started?
It actually was a crazy notion. I took the idea to my managing director, who connected me with some very senior leaders based on a mock press article I wrote about what the future might look like if Accenture launched a new non-profit business unit like ADP. Many months of work led to a business case, a feasibility study and a pilot, which eventually led to launch. A key factor was the feasibility study. Would companies be interested in these services, would non-profits pay for those services—at below-market costs, and would enough of our people be willing to work on reduced salaries in developing countries? The answers were yes, yes and yes. And so our non-profit social business within a business was launched.
What is so unique about the business model for Accenture Development Partnerships?
From the beginning, we’ve tried to have commercial sustainability hardwired into the model. We wanted ADP to be demand driven, so that we could provide the development sector with excellent people whenever they’re needed, for as long as needed, while also benefitting the individual by providing integrated career opportunities. We can have an impact in parts of the world that we couldn’t previously with organizations we wouldn’t have normally worked with, to develop our future leaders. And the effort doesn’t affect shareholders because it is supported by our business case.
How is energy key to international development?
We’re seeing a change whereby the interests of business and the interests of the developing world are starting to converge. I see energy as a cross-cutting area, like finance and technology—a red thread that cuts across so many other verticals or development issues. For example there are billions of people around the world without access to electricity. But access to energy is also a health issue, and part of the health solution is energy. Part of solving education and agriculture feeding solution issues is energy. We have the opportunity to think about issues like energy in a completely new way. And some of these big challenges are actually market opportunities in disguise for businesses.
One analogy I use describes why I was so bad at football at school, aside from an innate lack of ability. The best footballers don’t go chasing after the ball like I did. They anticipate where the ball is going and get there ahead of it. This is the way it should be with international development.
With ADP hitting the 10-year mark, what do you see for your future and for the next generation of the organization?
The first five years were about proving the business model—that a non-profit could thrive within a for-profit commercial environment, and that there were people interested in providing services on voluntary salary reductions. These past five years, our 2.0 model, has seen us increasingly at the nexus of commercial clients, as they partner with non-profits, development agencies, NGOs, governments, you name it. As I mentioned, the interests of business and of the developing world are converging. The issues are systemic and we’re going to need joint thinking on the solutions.
So the forward-looking view of ADP is around how we can be in a catalytic role, bringing companies together, perhaps even from different sectors. It becomes choreography, with ADP filling the role of a choreographer and integrator on these new solutions. And that’s what we really want to do, to try and bring the best of our client’s capabilities together with organizations to solve social issues.
What role can energy companies play in developing these programs in emerging economies?
Oil and gas companies have a huge economic dividend to the communities they are in, which is inextricably linked to their core business. It’s no surprise that if you have a long-term, multi-billion dollar investment in a country, the stability of that community is key to that investment. For example, we’ve worked with the Shell Foundation on clean cook stoves to address the disparity issues around people cooking on open fires. Indoor air pollution claims around 2 million lives each year. People with clean, efficient cooking sources inside their homes can become a safer, healthier population, which is important to companies working in that region. That’s just one example. Accenture is also working with the United Nations on their Sustainable Energy for All initiative, whose main objectives by 2030 are around energy access, energy efficiency and renewables—the energy industry is at the heart of those issues.
It’s thinking about the social economic footprint moving from a position of how to minimize negatives, to figuring out how to not only be a real force for positive development, but actually become development in your own right in these countries.
Given all your traveling, what is the most interesting place you’ve spent time in?
I probably travel about 50 percent of the time. I think Myanmar is very interesting—what it offers in terms of growth and opportunity is almost unprecedented. Countries like Tanzania are fascinating as well; in general, some of the fastest growing economies in the world during the past 10 years were African economies. So there is this story of Africa rising; there is a buzz and there is innovation, and it’s amazing. I’ve been going to Sub-Saharan Africa for many years and I feel that there is a difference in the past year or two in terms of optimism and outlook.
What book or e-book is sitting on your bedside table or on your tablet at the moment?
I just finished reading Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, by Michael Lewis, who also wrote Money Ball. It’s all about some of the slightly less savory aspects of trading. I’m also reading Social Intrapreneurism and All That Jazz, by David Gracian. The book uses a jazz improvisation metaphor for how individuals are being entrepreneurial within large companies; the different ways of jamming together and practicing and collaborating and innovating are a bit like jazz improv. So it’s not a lot of beach-read novels at the moment, I’m afraid—I save those for holidays.