Costa Rica, Convergence, and CSR

Public-private partnerships have not earned itself a popular approval in many communities around the world as a means to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods, and surely the process to converge NGOs and private business firms and government is a complex one. Nonetheless, I believe the idea of a convergence economy proposed by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has some bright opportunities, including NGOs who recognize the resources they can leverage by seeking out dedicated businesses for support and businesses who recognize the long term benefits they can leverage by engaging NGOs who are aligned with public welfare issues and the protection of natural environments. Governments, therefore would accordingly need to facilitate and act as an umbrella actor to help foster the accommodating policy fora so that such a convergence can take place.

Take Costa Rica for example, in a recent article by Robert Blasiak ( a former LUMIDER!), the country has independently “self-imposed” this idea of convergence first in regard to environmental protectionism and economic development, recognizing the diverse societal gains of their biodiversity of lush tropical forests (more hectares of forests:carbon neutrality; ecotourism: local employment). Because as Robert so nicely summarizes:

“Costa Rica’s success in slowing and ultimately reversing the deforestation trend is due to recognition by policymakers of the value of the country’s ecosystems.”

For Costa Rica, and it may be a unique case given the country’s natural environment endowments, the lesson is drawn from a seemingly nonchalant, yet out-of-the-box epiphany by the government: constitutionally justifying  “a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” for all people and operating without a standing army for the last 64 years! But nonetheless, Costa Rica drew my attention and certainly speaks to what the WBCSD  envisions, a future  of a “convergent value chain” or:

“…a flexible model in which different participants play different roles at different times, according to the recipients’ needs and according to which entity has the necessary mix of skills and resources.”

And it looks somewhat like this in Costa Rica. Because as the Costa Rica works towards carbon neutrality (independent of the international finance and institutional support might I add), big businesses in the country such as Florida Bebidas (aka Florida Ice & Farm Co.) are integrating more sustainable and environmental conscious efforts into their operations as a beverage brewery company. It appears to me that the model represents a convergence of stakeholders in this regard using a mix of financial and program development resources and local on-the-ground labour input. For example, Florida Bebidas’ (financial resources) pay for environmental services such as watershed conservation, coordinated by state agencies and national foundations such as the Foundation for the Development of the Volcanic Mountain Chain or the Costa Rica National Forestry Fund (program development and implementation) who then train and pay landowners and community producers for the services their land is used to provide for water users. (See one 2003 watershed program here)

Since my digging has not yet discovered local NGOs’ collaboration with business and government, this could mean several things, including: whether there are still gaps in seeing the effects of a fully multi-sector oriented scheme, the fact that the different stakeholders are still not seeing eye to eye and maybe there hasn’t been an active request to NGOs for support, or possibly even a lack of interest or hesitancy by these organizations themselves to be involved. However, what seems more probable is the potential for new value captured in the overall value chain model where not only has a company committed to CSR campaign for waste reduction and responsible consumption behaviors, but it has committed to working with people and stakeholders outside of its direct industry, and for the main reason recognizing that its long term growth depends on it. Ultimately it is such a convergence of stakeholders that the social and environmental impacts have equated to training landowners, employment generation, water resources management, social network development, and ultimately the conservation of Costa Rica’s precious ecosystem.

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