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 / Summer 2006 / Issue 43(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Megacommunity Manifesto

But NGOs still have constrained financial resources, limited staff, and little or no direct control over regulation and markets. They can gain influence only through engagement with the other two sectors. Unfortunately, many NGO leaders have unconsciously grown accustomed to thinking of their colleagues in the public and private sectors as beholden to special interests. This has limited the degree of openness and collaboration that NGOs have permitted themselves in the past. Now leaders of civil society are being called to become more relevant — indeed indispensable — to business and government, while maintaining their own integrity and recognizing the kinds of integrity that exist in the other two sectors.

As part of a megacommunity, all three sectors are in an excellent position to have a real and lasting effect on large and complex problems. It may seem that, joined together, the three sectors would make any situation more complex. But in fact, when designed and managed correctly, a megacommunity reduces complexity — as it has in Harlem, Veneto, and elsewhere. More and more leaders now seem to be aware of this. When megacommunities fail to form, it’s not from lack of desire, but from lack of capability. Will leaders be able to take up the megacommunity challenge and produce the results that the world needs? Experience suggests that they can; and we believe they will.

Convening a Megacommunity: The HIV/AIDS India Wargame
by Chris Kelly

More than 200 professionals met in New Delhi, India, on October 11, 2003, with a common goal: to establish a coordinated approach for combating HIV/AIDS in India.

All sectors were present. Attendees included those representing leading multinationals such as PepsiCo (the global soft drink and food company), Lafarge (the building materials manufacturer), and the Tata Group (the giant India-based conglomerate). Civil society leaders included the chief executives of major global donor organizations; the director of the HIV, TB, and reproductive health programs from the Gates Foundation; and the heads of local NGOs, groups that worked with people in the cities, towns, and villages of India. From the Indian government came health department and executive officials, as well as senior military officers; the United States government sent senior leaders from the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Leaders from the World Bank, several United Nations agencies, and the World Health Organization also made the trip. People living with HIV/AIDS were represented by the community workers who manage the disease every day. The event was organized and sponsored by three private-sector organizations: the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC), Booz Allen Hamilton, and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

The participants held no common view of how to stop the spread of the disease. But they all knew that, left unchecked, HIV/AIDS could undermine the future of the Indian economy, India’s people, and even the world’s economy. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in India currently stands at 0.4 percent, a “mere” 4 million people. But what if the number of HIV/AIDS cases in India began to approximate that of Africa’s sub-Saharan countries, which have experienced more than 20 percent incidence rates? With just a 4 percent prevalence rate, India could face the possibility of caring for more than 40 million people with AIDS — more than the number who have died of HIV/AIDS-related causes in the entire world to date.

Though no one was using the word megacommunity at the time of the New Delhi gathering, the concept was emerging: To successfully stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in India, fragmented solutions would not be sufficient. Many diverse people had a stake in the outcome — for example, a rise in AIDS levels could seriously threaten the skilled work force of this rapidly industrializing nation — but none could succeed unilaterally. With the limited time available, some kind of catalyst for a better mutual approach was needed.

We conducted a wargame: a strategic simulation to engage participants at a deeper level than could have been achieved in a traditional conference or workshop. The basic scenario was established at the start: HIV/AIDS was beginning to spread dramatically on the subcontinent. Each individual was assigned to a team representing a major stakeholder — community, government official, businessperson, donor, activist, news reporter. A core of each team was made up of experts from that stakeholder group, but most participants were asked to represent stakeholders whose role differed from their real-life roles. The simulation was supported by a computer-designed model that kept track of events and tallied up the consequences of each new “round” of play.

The event lasted two days and started with a great deal of tension. Many participants knew how to do their own “job” and had opinions about how the others should do theirs. No one was ready to let go of the rules, to find the simplicity on the other side of the complexity of this problem. That would have taken open and authentic collaboration across the game’s simulated boundaries. Instead, the simulated crisis kept getting worse. No one had answers. People complained, pointed fingers at each other, and explained why things could not be done.

Then a small change took place. One team sent a note to another asking for help. “Would the members of the federal government team be willing to flow the majority of funds to state regions where they are needed?” Another team followed suit: “Could we use corporate facilities to help others in the surrounding region?” And another: “Treatment options need to be linked with counseling, but the drugs are too expensive…could we develop lower-cost solutions together?” A group of NGOs created a new pool of jointly funded programs to leverage their money and other resources more effectively.

The most important outcome of the simulation was the conversations it started. By walking in one another’s shoes, participants could overcome taboos and develop a new type of win–win mind-set. In the end, the 200-plus professionals generated ideas for 54 partnerships focused on more than 100 programs. Based on the simulation’s metrics, we estimated that similar real-world measures could ultimately prevent 40 million cases of the disease over the next 20 years, with a combined estimated impact of more than $31 billion in regained GDP.

And in the weeks following the gathering, some startling results emerged: Tata expanded its workplace and community activities to encourage effective HIV/AIDS prevention through mass awareness and education. The Lafarge Group and six other global companies (Anglo-American, Chevron Texaco, DaimlerChrysler, Eskom, Heineken, and Tata Steel) announced that they would use their facilities, employees, and other infrastructure to expand workplace HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs into communities where they operate. In early 2004, an Indian pharmaceuticals company announced an HIV/AIDS drug attainable for less than $1. The organizations are still talking and working together; they have formed a megacommunity whose enterprise against the spread of HIV/AIDS in India continues to this day. (See also “Avian Flu: A Test of Collective Integrity,” by Susan Penfield and John Larkin, s+b, Summer 2006.)

Chris Kelly ([email protected]) is a vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean, Va., focusing on policy and strategy for global security.

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  1. Juanita Brown and David Isaacs, The World Café: Shaping Our Futures through Conversations That Matter (Berrett-Koehler, 2005): Megacommunity-oriented methodology.
  2. Amitai Etzioni, From Empire to Community: A New Approach to Industrial Relations (Palgrave, 2004): The founder of communitarianism posits a global society with megacommunity-like qualities.
  3. William Isaacs, Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together (Currency Doubleday, 1999): Theory and practice for conversations across boundaries.
  4. Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics (Random House, 1992): Why political (guardian) and business (trader) leaders routinely misunderstand each other.
  5. Art Kleiner, “Daniel Yankelovich: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Fall 2005: Illuminates the corporate role in broader engagement and the value of dialogue. Click here.
  6. Art Kleiner, “The Dilemma Doctors,” s+b, Second Quarter 2001: Profile of cultural researchers Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner includes a more complete explanation of “universalism.” Click here.
  7. Beth Kytle and John G. Ruggie, “Corporate Social Responsibility as Risk Management,” Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative Working Paper no. 4, March 2005: Strategies for managing the “social risk” that is possible when corporations and civil society meet. Click here.
  8. John Larkin, Ellen Knebel, and Joshua Trevino, “How MNCs Can Fight the War on HIV/AIDS,” s+b, Winter 2004: Corporate role and rationale for getting involved in a highly complex problem. Click here.
  9. George Lodge and Craig Wilson, A Corporate Solution to Global Poverty: How Multinationals Can Help the Poor and Invigorate Their Own Legitimacy (Princeton University Press, 2006): Harvard professor and International Finance Corporation economist propose a “World Development Corporation” to bring the three sectors together on poverty reduction — in effect, through megacommunities.
  10. “Urban Enterprise Initiative” Web page, William J. Clinton Foundation: Site for the former Harlem Small Business Initiative. Click here.
  11. For more business thought leadership, sign up for s+b’s RSS feeds. Click here.
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