Partnership Development

What are Pre-Competitive Partnerships?

Leadership | September 28, 2021

Companies around the world, large and small, are starting to set bold sustainability goals and take action to address complex challenges that threaten their business, the environment, and society.

However, increasingly, companies across industries also recognize that they cannot meet their sustainability, sourcing, and business goals by going it alone.

Making significant and meaningful progress on systemic issues, from climate change to human rights, to health innovation and more, requires companies to collaborate and cooperate with a wide range of stakeholders, including other companies.


Pre-Competitive Partnerships Lead to Greater Sustainability Impact and Business Results

It’s easy to acknowledge the need for companies to work with other stakeholders, but what does that mean? What does it look like? And how do companies know which stakeholders they should partner with?

The answers to these questions depend greatly on the problem you’re trying to solve and who needs to be on board to help solve it. We write a lot about cross-sector partnerships, which unite companies in collaboration with donors, civil society, foundations, and others, to take on shared challenges and pursue aligned opportunity.

But sometimes, what’s especially needed is for peer companies to come together to address a problem side-by-side. Pre-competitive partnerships have emerged as a powerful collaboration model for forward-thinking companies looking to address systemic challenges.

Pre-competitive collaboration involves two or more companies operating within the same industry, coming together to address a shared problem or pain point that doesn’t impact direct business competition. Such partnerships can also be between companies sharing a supply chain ecosystem (e.g., companies that source from the same regions, farmers, or factories, or that hire from shared labor pools).

Pre-Competitive Collaboration for Corporate Sustainability Goals

There are times when competition between private sector companies drives innovation; other times, it creates redundancies or inefficiencies. Pre-competitive partnerships work exceptionally well when focused on addressing a shared social impact or sustainability challenge like human rights or water allocation—or when companies hope to advance systemic change.

Here, pre-competitive partnerships offer corporate sustainability teams a chance to collaborate with competitors and peers, collectively pooling and channeling resources, expertise, and information to coordinate and scale more impactful solutions that help each partner better meet their business and sustainability goals.

Take sustainability, for example. Here, we benefit from greater collaboration between companies for several reasons:

  • Data and knowledge sharing expedites experimentation, helping companies better determine what works in fighting climate change or other complex sustainability challenges.
  • Taking a systems approach breaks down false silos around individual supply chains, allowing companies to recognize overlapping interests and get to solutions more efficiently.
  • Setting clear standards across an industry makes it easier to regulate practices that can be harmful to people and environments.

How Are Pre-Competitive Partnerships Structured?

Pre-competitive partnership models typically form via two avenues:

1. Advocacy Based:

Companies can join or create consortiums within industries that work on specific challenge areas like human rights, reducing plastics, or water availability. Action from these groups often focuses on lobbying for policy change, hiring research institutions to delve deep into shared challenges, and/or convening to share insights or make public commitments to increase awareness and accountability.

The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) is one model for how companies—including competitors—have joined forces for deep collaboration and partnership to transform global systems for electronics, plastics, capital equipment, textiles, and food.

2. Project Based:

Some companies may supplement advocacy efforts with more project-based models. The action from these efforts focuses on mobilizing resources on the ground within a specific region or sector. At Resonance, we work with companies to help them activate their sustainability goals through contextualized partnerships.

By establishing projects within a specific supply chain or region,company partners can solve specific shared challenges, test new solutions or approaches, and also drive concrete action to further bigger-picture goals.

When it comes to achieving sustainability and business goals, there is no “one-size-fits-all” partnership model; only what’s best for your specific challenge and context. Before jumping into a consortium or building out regionally-specific projects with another company, it’s important to evaluate if this partnership model is right for your business.

If you're ready to engage in a pre-competitive partnership, ask yourself these three key questions to determine when pre-competitive collaboration is right for your company.

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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.