King Baudouin Foundation – building bridges in Poland

Alliance magazine

The King Baudouin Foundation sees itself very much in the role of broker, building bridges between business and society in order to create partnerships for development. The World Bank ‘Partners in Transition’ conference in Warsaw in June 1997 provided an ideal opportunity.

Questions about the role of the private sector in partnerships for development have proliferated in recent months. The issue is particularly acute in economies in transition, where the roles of the state and the market are redefined and where civil society organizations – or NGOs – are only now beginning to gain wider acceptance. The World Bank has therefore teamed up with the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum (PWBLF), the Polish Children and Youth Foundation, the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF) and other organizations to further explore how to mobilize the private sector as a partner in development, together with the public sector and NGOs. A regional roundtable to discuss these topics was organized in Warsaw, Poland, on 12–13 June 1997.

The goals of the conference were:

  • to better understand the benefits that corporations gain by investing in and partnering with their communities;
  • to explore ways of working together on issues such as education, vocational training, youth entrepreneurship, the environment and urban regeneration.

The conference provided a forum for business leaders, NGO leaders and government officials to meet, discuss the benefits of the partnership approach, and explore the possibilities for collaborating on national and local projects identified by the participants themselves.

The general theme of the conference was ‘Partners in Transition: Public–private partnerships for prosperity’. Separate sessions and workshops dealt with topics such as corporate investment in human and social capital, business partnering with governments and civil society to build stronger communities, creating an enabling environment for partnership, educating the workforce of tomorrow, building up skills for the market economy, and regenerating the urban/rural environment through
partnerships.

The World Bank’s Corporate Citizenship Program

Until recently the World Bank concentrated mainly on ‘facts and figures’. Lately, however, two new trends have arisen. First, it has started paying attention to ‘softer’ issues. Second, it is searching for partnerships with ‘new’ actors, such as companies and NGOs. Its Corporate Citizenship Program is a case in point.

During its 1996 Annual Meetings, the World Bank organized a Corporate Citizenship Day in which top CEOs, leading organizations in the field such as the PWLBF and the King Baudouin Foundation, and other parties concerned discussed the do’s and don’ts of public–private partnerships. As all the participants expressed their interest in sharing experiences and building a knowledge bank about the subject, the World Bank decided to start organizing regional roundtables. The first of these was held in Warsaw in June 1997.

Apart from the World Bank and the other organizers, the conference was attended by several leading corporations (eg Citibank, Monsanto, ABB) and local NGOs.

The King Baudouin Foundation as broker

The KBF has been active in Central and Eastern Europe for several years, concentrating on ethnic minorities. It is working in the region with the Soros Foundations as a partner, and through the Local Environmental Action Partnership (LEAP), of which it is a founding member. Lately, it has acquired some experience in collaborating with local NGOs on environmental issues. In Belgium, the KBF advises several large corporations on their community involvement and manages the CCI funds of multinationals such as Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor Co and Levi-Strauss.

The Foundation sees itself as a broker between the World Bank, local NGOs and the private sector. With its long-standing experience in Belgium and abroad, it attempts to bring together potential partners and define projects. Its work for ethnic minorities had increased its credibility with Polish NGOs even before the Warsaw conference. This is important, because NGOs in Central and Eastern Europe often need to put aside a certain uneasiness about the private sector, a  sentiment rooted in the recent communist past of the region. In this respect, the KBF can forge the ‘missing link’ between the market and NGOs.

KBF’s role in Warsaw

In Warsaw, the KBF and its local partner, the Fundacja Partnerstwo dla Srodowiska (the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe), suggested four themes for public–private partnerships:

Rural Revitalization — the Amber Trail Project  The recent transformations in Central and Eastern Europe have largely neglected the countryside. The Amber Trail project aims to revitalize local communities along a broad corridor from Budapest through Slovakia to Kraków and eventually Gdansk. The matter is especially important in the light of the negotiations on EU accession, and has been recognized as an important area for World Bank involvement by the Bank’s president, Mr Wolfensohn. Business can contribute in at least two ways: by supporting small business development locally and by a more general engagement with rural redevelopment.

Solving Waste Management Problems (eg in Wroclaw, Brzeg, Jelenia Góra)  As consumerism grows, so does the amount of waste. In cities like Wroclaw, Brzeg and Jelenia Góra, municipal governments are teaming up with NGOs on this issue. Together, they are setting up city-wide forums where the various stakeholders can meet and talk. Waste management directly affects many companies, so the private sector clearly has a prominent role to play in searching for sustainable solutions to local waste problems. Waste management should be seen as a business opportunity, not just a cost.

Urban Regeneration through Small Business Development (eg in Kraków)  A cooperative approach involving government, business and NGOs can be used to solve the environmental problems of post-industrial urban areas in ways that also bring about economic improvement and social revitalization. The idea is to help individual SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to grow by reducing environmental costs, enhancing product quality and using environmental performance to secure new business. The World Bank is interested in linking environment and business development in the context of economic restructuring. For many bigger corporations, such project offers a way of fostering local development of potential suppliers.

Community Right to Know  The ‘community right to know’ affects business, citizens, local government and NGOs and is crucial to building the trust needed for broad-based community development. The aim is to develop community-right-to-know guidelines, especially in communities with hazardous industries. Business must be involved, since the community right to know will secure local understanding of their activities and make emergency responses more effective.

In discussing these themes, three questions were at the forefront:

  • Why are public–private partnerships important to these initiatives and what are the incentives for each actor?
  • How can we build such partnerships into the proposed themes?
  • What can be done to foster partnership and community investment by corporations?

The way forward

Ultimately, the King Baudouin Foundation sees the Warsaw conference as a means to spur the World Bank into action. In the future, the aim will be to look for creative forms of cooperation and for new products the World Bank and foundations may cooperate on. The World Bank may possibly wish to support projects with venture capital. The idea of matching funds might serve as a guideline. The possibilities of micro-credit deserve further attention too. The role of intermediary organizations such as the KBF should be to manage and monitor contacts between the World Bank and partners in Central and Eastern Europe.

As the Warsaw Conference made clear, more and more local examples are demonstrating the effectiveness of corporate citizenship. All three sectors show a great willingness to actively seek partnerships in the community. The King Baudouin Foundation, too, stays committed to communicating good practice and to sharing its experiences as widely as possible.

KING BAUDOUIN FOUNDATION

The King Baudouin Foundation was set up in 1976 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coronation of HM King Baudouin. Its aim, as laid down in its charter, is ‘to undertake any initiatives leading to an improvement in the living conditions of the population, taking into account economic, social, scientific and cultural factors’. One of its key strengths is unlocking the energy and commitment of others. It currently has hundreds of ongoing projects in such diverse areas as job creation, preserving the Belgian heritage and raising environmental awareness.

The European and international aspect of its work is becoming increasingly important. Its 1997 Programme for the Improvement of Inter-Ethnic Relations in Mixed Regions of Central and Eastern Europe, run jointly with the Soros Foundations, will operate in 13 countries. The development of projects relating to street children is being ignored.

Contact KBF, rue Brederodestraat 21, B-1000 Brussels. Tel +32 2 511 18 40  Fax +32 2 511 52 21  E-mail asg@kbs-frb.be


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