Agriculture & Food Security -Partnership Development

Collaborating for the Circular Economy: Reflections from USAID, IKEA Foundation, and Royal DSM

Article | October 19, 2020

The pandemic, climate change, global food shortages: Around the world, people are calling for greater investment in resilient systems that can carry us through the present and future crises. The circular economy offers a path toward a sustainable future by designing out waste and pollution, keeping materials in use, and regenerating nature in an equitable economic system.

At this year’s World Circular Economy Forum, Resonance had a (virtual) front-row seat to how global leaders are using cross-sector collaboration to accelerate progress toward circularity. As a strategic partner to the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), Resonance’s founder Steve Schmida moderated a panel titled “Partnering through change: new momentum in the emerging circular economy.” The panel featured insights from senior leaders at Apple, the IKEA Foundation, Royal DSM, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and University of Tokyo’s Center for Global Commons. Below, we share some key findings from their discussion.

Reflections On Collaborating For The Circular Economy

Leading with Values

IKEA Foundation CEO Per Heggenes highlighted the key criteria that make partnerships work. “I believe it’s extremely important to start with values,” he said. “We have a value-based culture at IKEA Foundation, and we make sure that partners share a common understanding and that our values are aligned. We amplify the voices of our partners and communities to ensure a fair, inclusive, balanced debate. It’s a long-term commitment with transparent relationships, because trust takes time to build.”

Heggenes highlighted partnerships with the World Benchmarking Alliance, Aceli Africa, and Enviu in support of their FoodFlow program to help transform the global agriculture sector through regenerative and circular practices. 

He cautioned that the transition to a circular economy won’t always be smooth and that it won’t happen overnight. Partners will have to join together to create a vision, share aspirations, and take a leap of faith to be successful. Transparency is key. Said Heggenes, “We are strongest when we work together and are all pulling in the same direction.”

Partnership: A Critical Pathway

“Partners are extremely important for the work we do,” said USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick. “USAID carries out nearly all of our work through partnerships with the private sector, host country governments, and local NGOs, and we would not be successful without them.”

Partnerships are essential to achieve the systemic change that will advance the circular economy. As evidence of how USAID harnesses collaboration to tackle today’s most pressing and dynamic challenges, Glick pointed to USAID’s partnerships with the U.S. Department of State on the COVID-19 Private Sector Engagement & Partnership Fund, partnerships with the private sector to combat the massive problem of ocean plastics, and collaboration with the IKEA Foundation and many others through Aceli Africa, a project to build the finance market for an inclusive agriculture sector in Africa. 

She noted that foreign assistance is undergoing a profound change in how it is financed and in how it is delivered. “All the funds contributed by all donors combined are dwarfed by funds coming into emerging markets through the private sector,” said Glick. “Private sector partnerships are no longer an alternative way of supporting development, but a critical pathway to achieving results.”

The Three C’s of Successful Partnerships

Dimitri De Vreeze, Co-Chief Executive Officer at Royal DSM, reflected on how the company’s attitude toward partnership had changed over the years. “Maybe in the past, we did everything ourselves,” he said. “In today’s situation, that would absolutely be a recipe for disaster. You need to partner to really address the key topics in the world.”

Solving for the circular economy requires action and innovation across entire value chains. For example, DSM worked with raw material suppliers, designers, and manufacturers to develop and launch a line of carpet, mattress, and panel products called Niaga (“again” spelled backward) that simplifies the manufacturing process and uses clean materials so that products can be regained and reused. “Because we had to work through the entire value chain, partnership was absolutely critical for success,” said De Vreeze.

De Vreeze also shared the “three Cs” that help frame his approach to innovation: “Courageous, caring, and collaborative partnerships are essential elements of a circular economy.”

Setting the Global Circularity Agenda

PACE’s Global Director David McGinty closed the panel discussion with three recommendations for advancing progress on the circular economy: strong global and local leadership, the creation of design and feedback loops, and leveraging the power of individuals across their roles as consumers, employees, and community members.

Resonance and PACE are employing these recommendations as we work with over 200 public, private, and civil society partners to develop the first global Circular Economy Action Agendas. The agendas include forty calls to action for collaboration across four key sectors—plastics, electronics, textiles, and food—and will be released early in 2021. For more information, follow PACE on LinkedIn, or contact us

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If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.