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


The Megacommunity Approach to Tackling the World’s Toughest Problems

But the WFP has found that in recent years, it has been harder to get overseas funding from governments — which are increasingly hamstrung by local demands. Certainly, this development is due in part to the downturn in world and local economies, but Roman also sees it as a function of increased scrutiny in the age of the Internet and 24-hour cable news.

Thus, although the government sector continued and still continues to play a significant role in the WFP, a larger and clearer need began to emerge for new partners. The WFP decided to explore the concept of the megacommunity. Its leaders were drawn to the idea of reaching out to new sectors, to building bridges, and to uncovering where they might find some significant overlap in their vital interests.

“Governments,” Roman says, “have become more parochial. But find me a company that’s in 100 countries, and I will find you a company that understands our issues cold: hunger, water, demographic trends. That’s a real shift. It used to be that government knew all that. Now, business has it all over government.”

Like Massimo Sarmi, Nancy Roman (who took the operative lead after Josette Sheeran, WFP executive director, initiated the megacommunity effort) proved to have the right, varied background for this kind of outreach. She is experienced in journalism and business, and has worked for both Wall Street and the Council on Foreign Relations. “I recognized very clearly,” she says, “particularly from my experience at the council, the wisdom of building coalitions, and what it can do to advance and further whatever aim you are trying to reach — in our case, hunger.”

Roman has found that the idea of the megacommunity is very much in line with new developments she sees in corporate funding. “I do sense that [those in] the private sector — the big companies — are willing to step up. But the shift that I see is that in the old world, companies wanted to give a million dollars, write a check, get a picture in the newspaper, and move on with their business. Today, they want to be change makers. They want to solve the problems. In other words, there’s no more easy cash; they want to be at the table changing the world. And I don’t blame them. I would, too, if I were a CEO.”

As a result, the World Food Programme has implemented a new operating model for fund-raising. The organization has joined together with Poste Italiane and Mediaset SpA, a major media holding company based in Italy. Mediaset has provided free advertising, which has led to unprecedented awareness of the WFP in Italy. The advertisements are part of an effort to inform the public that fighting hunger is not only a moral issue but also one of cultural stability, and even of national security. Meanwhile, Poste and the WFP are considering offering a “solidarity card” to Poste Mobile customers whereby a percentage of their payments would be donated to the WFP. By joining forces, the WFP has created capabilities impossible for a single player to develop alone. Like Poste’s cybersecurity model, this fund-raising approach is one that was created to be ongoing and that can be scaled up. A second wave is planned for other industrialized countries.

Meanwhile, the building of megacommunity connections to the business sector has resulted in more than money for the WFP. When capabilities come together, participants experience new realizations that can be harnessed in even more dramatic ways. According to Roman, “One of my own realizations has been that we need the innovation and the ingenuity of the private sector. We know what it takes to nourish a child’s mind and body and brain. But we don’t have either the food or the distribution mechanisms to provide it throughout the developing world; we need the corporate world to help us. We need them to innovate with new products. I don’t believe you can solve the big world problems, any of them — demographic trends, urbanization, shortage of water, shortage of food — without the private sector.”

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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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