Collaboration as the pathway to a sustainable future

13 Sep 2021, 12:00 am
Bilaad Reality


Competitive self-interest, conflicting priorities, and a lack of a fully shared purpose not only thwart the laudable objectives of individualistic actors, but they also jeopardise shared interests.

According to Richard Watkins, a collaboration expert and founder of the collaboration consultancy Let’s Go, “We’re born into groups, we live in groups and everything of value is always in groups. No-one’s ever achieved anything on their own.” While collaboration might be as old as humanity itself, it has never been more important in the world of work. The power of collaboration has with time gained momentum. Joint working has been recognized as an effective tool for a nation’s economic growth and development.

Across Nigerian and African real estate industries, the value chain for the sector, and regulators, the need to practically understand the importance of cross-sector collaboration is crucial to achieving sustainable development. Each market participant and stakeholder group have vital roles to play. As a means of coordinating different ideas and resources to deliver innovative performance and outcomes, collaboration is known to outperform solo efforts.

As a concept, sustainability is a collective framework. It seeks to promote long-term organisational performance, advance the collective progress of the society, and preserve the natural environment, making it habitable for the present and future generations. These are to be pursued together and in coordination.

This requires multi-stakeholders partnership. The public and private sectors and civil society organisations (CSOs) have to work together to achieve common good. In the absence of such collaboration, each stakeholder acting alone had failed to achieve its purpose. Competitive self-interest, conflicting priorities, and a lack of a fully shared purpose not only thwart the laudable objectives of individualistic actors, but they also jeopardise shared interests.

Collaboration in business is generally intended to confer benefits to the parties involved as it involves the exchange of knowledge, monetary resources and other forms of value. Collaborative efforts have a better chance at big success but are nevertheless challenging to mobilise and sustain as necessary. Participants tend to ask who stands to profit the most, bringing a competitive instinct – instead of a cooperative one – into a partnership.

From Self Interest to Shared Interest

In line with the sustainability principle, businesses need to reduce their ecological footprints and exploitation of natural assets. This compels them to be innovative and work with others in creating value for their customers. Using less resources to deliver improved products in a growing market may seem not only challenging but also contradictory. But it is a possibility.

Toyota is the largest car company in the world, according to World Atlas. The Japanese auto-manufacturer produced over 20 million cars in 2017. It has over the years managed to reduce production costs and increase vehicle quality by adopting Just-in-Time (JIT) and lean production systems. This model leverages the values of collaboration and partnership to evolve a supply chain that is cost- and resource-efficient. The supply chain approach brings the manufacturing plants closer to the buyers, thereby eliminating the use of some natural assets, and also reducing cost while increasing profit.

In the commercial spheres, collaboration has broad applications. The Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) applies this framework in the real estate sector. IREM knowingly describes itself as “an international force of 20,000 individuals united to advance the profession of real estate management. The initiative, formed 85 years ago to advance the diverse career paths in the built environment, was both ground-breaking and exemplary.

More than ever, businesses are being challenged to help tackle social and environmental issues. In response, businesses of various sizes are taking the sustainability challenge seriously. As they continue to discover, sustainability is not only about decreasing their negative environmental impact, but it is also about improving their reputations and operational and financial performance.

Collaborating for Sustainability

According to M.R. Rangaswami, the Indian software executive, who is described also as an investor, entrepreneur, corporate eco-strategy expert, community builder, and philanthropist, long-term value from a customer or consumer perspective can imply so many things. This view accentuates the importance of collaboration in order to form a comprehensive view of a situation and in delivering on complex projects. Cross-border collaboration has driven global trade. While the gains have been lopsided in favour of the advanced, producer economies – compared to developing countries that make up a significant part of the world’s consumers – what needs to be done is to strengthen the delivery of mutual benefits. In this way, the positive impact of trade, including in real estate, would be sustainable.

This has often played out to be easier said than done, as collaboration requires the right blend of values that are shared across participating stakeholders to create the sustainable outcome planned. In their 2007 article in Harvard Business Review, titled Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams, Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson polemically argued that “the qualities necessary for success are the same as the qualities that destroy success.” In their research into team behaviour at 15 multinational companies, they found that teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial for challenging projects. However, they also found that those four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done.

Whether public or private, local or international, organizations are faced with this paradox and the solution could not be starker: the more complex a team is, the more you require a uniting philosophy, according to the authors.

To Collaborate or not to Collaborate?

Every sector faces the challenge of moving from an industrial past to a sustainable future, and the real estate industry is no exception. While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to respond to the changes the industry is experiencing, the future is “green” development. Professionals in the industry, and those serving it, need to have a shared idea of the future and work together to deliver it.  

Collaboration for sustainability raises a number of questions. What are the risks and the rewards for partnering with other entities from diverse sectors and backgrounds? Which group of stakeholders stand to profit the most? Which service providers would drive the future development: developers, financiers, architects, environmentalists, or the regulators?

Nevertheless, progress and breakthroughs will not accelerate working in isolation, islanded by individual capabilities and limitations. Working collaboratively with partners to create opportunities will provide needed energy to drive creativity, growth and innovation. At Bilaad Realty, we recognise the importance of collaborating for sustainability and the need to develop approaches that go beyond philanthropy and deliver on shared value.

The future is difficult to predict with mathematical accuracy. But one thing is certain: collaboration and partnership are imperative to overcoming global challenges and fostering a future of shared prosperity for businesses and people.

Bilaad Realty Limited is an Abuja-based company focused on delivering sustainable real estate solutions.