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 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Megacommunity Approach to Tackling the World’s Toughest Problems

The success of Poste’s megacommunity has been rapid and multifaceted, although built around a fairly young set of initiatives. The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States Secret Service and has been asked to join the electronic crime task force in New York City. The perspective and involvement of law enforcement is key to the development of a cybersecure planet — and underscores the need for companies to recognize which of their problems are global problems, and correspondingly prepare to move outside their sector.

Meanwhile, together with industrial partners such as Enel, Microsoft, and Visa/MasterCard, and with academic partners such as George Mason University and Royal Holloway College at the University of London, Poste recently opened a global Cyber Security Center of Excellence in Rome. This center will promote research into how security is reshaping the Web, as well as provide forensic and training support to its members and to other organizations. The issue that the center plans to address first, according to Sarmi, is “international cooperation, because the problem is global. It’s not national or local.” Sarmi recognizes that to ensure success, all representatives from all sectors must participate. As a result, the Center of Excellence was formed as a not-for-profit organization, a status that makes it possible for government agencies and NGOs to join.

One of the center’s primary goals is to find a way to make the Internet more dynamically secure, to emphasize active defense as opposed to passive (passive as in the use of firewalls). Its ultimate goal is not a meek one: to develop an inviolable cybersecurity network for the world. Very quickly, the implementation of a megacommunity approach can lead to a “scaling up” in attitudes, goals, and partnerships. It unlocks potential. Together, Sarmi and his partners may be forming the building blocks for confronting a massive worldwide threat, yet their efforts remain wholly tied to the vital interests — business and otherwise — of each individual partner.

World Food Programme and Hunger

Having experienced an initial round of possibility and excitement from its megacommunity commitments, Poste Italiane has become involved in other megacommunities. One of the new initiatives it has joined is a fund-raising effort for the world’s largest agency fighting hunger, the World Food Programme, which is also headquartered in Rome.

Like Poste, the World Food Programme found itself hitting a wall as it encountered new global challenges. The organization’s experience provides a look at the megacommunity concept from a different sector perspective. As Nancy Roman, the program’s director of communications and public policy strategy, explains: “We’ve made a lot of progress in hunger over four decades. People are sometimes surprised to learn that from the 1960s to now, the percentage of hungry people in the world has dropped from 37 percent to 17 percent. That’s huge progress, but we’ve also seen a big demographic shift and population growth. Now we’ve more than doubled the world population, to 6.8 billion. So the raw numbers of the hungry are rising. And people recognize that, strictly on a charity basis, you’re not going to wipe out hunger among the bottom billion. We need hunger solutions. We’ve got to take a different tack.”

These new challenges are further complicated by a shift in the culture of the government sector. When the World Food Programme was founded in the 1960s, Roman notes, “President Kennedy could sit down with Senator McGovern and determine that they were going to take excess grain and share it with the world. That was something you could pretty much discuss over a coffee or a whiskey at night and have it done.”

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  1. Michael Delurey, David Sulek, and Lawrence Frascella, “Convenors of Capability,” s+b, Spring 2008: How a community center founded in Hurricane Katrina’s wake helped bring people the help they needed to rebuild.
  2. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Why public, private, and civil leaders should confront together the problems that none can solve alone.
  3. Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly, Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business, and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008): The origins, development, and methodologies of the megacommunity concept.
  4. Art Kleiner, “Fulvio Conti: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Autumn 2008: The CEO of the world’s second-largest utility explains how energy companies must reach out to other entities to adapt in a fast-changing global marketplace.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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