If an organization wants to be more sustainable, how can it change its supply chain to accomplish that goal? Ivey Assistant Professor Jury Gualandris may have the answer.
Gualandris’ work stands at the intersection of Supply Chain Management and Sustainability, as he seeks to understand how organizations can use their supply chains to have a positive impact on their business and society. His newest research specifically examines how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can assist other organizations to deliver transformational change: both social and environmental.
“Transformational change is a fundamental, long-lasting alteration of a system through changing the knowledge, practices, and relationships of multiple stakeholders,” Gualandris said.
Planning transformational change
Gualandris began his research by looking at accountability: how reliable, complete, and responsive the information that an organization collects, verifies, and discloses is in the eyes of the organization’s stakeholders.
Stakeholders can be diverse. Employees, local communities, investors, and NGOs can all have very different understandings of what sustainability looks like and means. An organization might collect and disclose information on its environmental impact, for example, but if the biggest issue in the stakeholders’ eyes is social, the organization isn’t sustainable.
If there’s a divergence in what sustainability means to stakeholders, how do you as an organization decide which issue to focus on and solve?
Gualandris found there are two methods: one inclusive, and one not. An inclusive process is when the organization engages with multiple internal and external stakeholders. The organization can ask its diverse stakeholders what they think is important, and stakeholders can help gather that information. A non-inclusive process is just the opposite. An organization collects, verifies, and discloses what it wants, without anyone else’s guidance.
“An inclusive process can involve NGOs too, not just employees and shareholders,” Gualandris said. “In the past, NGOs were analyzed in literature as a source of pressure, but we present them as a source of solutions. They aren’t always the evil that comes in and criticizes. Their goal is to create sustainability. Some of them are open to discussion. And because they have particular capabilities that your organization may not have, they can be the mediator between you and your diverse stakeholders. They can help you prioritize issues and develop accountability, especially in complex, global supply chains.”
This idea of NGOs providing solutions was the inspiration behind his most recent paper, “Delivering Transformational Change: Aligning Supply Chains and Stakeholders in Non-Governmental Organizations,” co-written with Ivey Professor Robert Klassen.
Delivering transformational change
NGOs try to deliver change at a system level, be it an industry, society, or supply chain. And change, Gualandris said, is usually delivered through change episodes: distinct sequences of activities targeting specific stakeholder groups.
In Gualandris’ paper, he provides an example of a recent intervention by Oxfam called “Behind the Brands” (BtB). BtB assessed 10 companies in the food & beverage industry, and called for change in their supply chains. The key stakeholders here were global corporations, consumers, and investors. One change episode targeted global corporations through influencing and advocacy activities. Another targeted consumers using campaigning in social media, to push for responsible consumers and encourage them to make specific demands of the company. And the third change episode targeted investors through advocacy and campaigning activities.
“Collectively, NGOs try to change relationships, knowledge, and attitudes of the three actors,” Gualandris said. “But how? In this case, Oxfam put together what we will call a supply chain: its very own group of partners that helped to influence and train the three stakeholder groups.”
As a “supply chain guy,” this is what Gualandris finds fascinating: the concept of supply chains in nontraditional spaces. In the “Delivering Transformational Change” paper, the authors come up with some theoretical recommendations on how these supply chain groups should be structured to operate effectively, depending on the intervention (e.g. who you’re targeting and what their behaviour is).
They identified two key dimensions, leading to four different kinds of supply chains. The first key dimension is the degree of differentiation, meaning whether or not there will be subgroups within the supply chain. Sometimes having subgroups can help ease tension between two parties that may not work well together, Gualandris said. The second dimension is the degree of coordination, or if the different activities within a single campaign relate to one another using synergistic qualities. It’s a matter of making the activities mutually reinforcing, Gualandris said.
“There are two options,” Gualandris concludes. “Either you get disrupted – because there is a scandal going on in your supply chain – or you are the positive disruptor that starts changing things before they get bad.”
He concluded by saying if you want to be the positive disruptor, create inclusive accountability. Learn from NGOs or rely on them to help make the changes you – or your stakeholders – want to see. More insights can be found in “Delivering Transformational Change: Aligning Supply Chains and Stakeholders in Non-Governmental Organizations.”
And how exactly do positive disruptors create this transformational change? That’s where Gualandris is looking to take his research next.