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The Story Of An Evolving Partnership With IKEA Foundation

Vivek Singh, Head of Portfolio – Employment and Entrepreneurship, IKEA Foundation, reflects on the catalytic partnership with Enviu.

As a philanthropic organization, IKEA Foundation is mindful of several factors when providing catalytic support to programs that align with their vision and values. Considering this, in 2019, it took a chance on the venture-building organization Enviu, which does extensive pilots to lay down long-term, and resilient frameworks to address social and environmental issues.  

A strategic and value alignment where the focus is on people and the planet; a programmatic approach; well-grounded methodologies; and strong expertise — it was these aspects of Enviu that clicked with IKEA Foundation, and dovetailed with its expectations. The result was a partnership that began in late 2019. 

Since the partnership was formed, both Enviu and IKEA Foundation have had one binding aim: “Collectively create new viable and demonstrable models in the textile waste and food sectors that protect the planet and provide sustainable employment opportunities to people living in poverty,” says Vivek Singh, Head of Portfolio — Employment and Entrepreneurship, IKEA Foundation. 

Today, the impact of this partnership is reflected not just in business models, but in human lives, and landfills, too. Although still early stage, the ventures have already created 2016 jobs, saved 1,334 million litres of water from being wasted, and diverted 201,000 kilograms of waste from landfill. And the future looks bright to grow this impact on a much bigger scale.  

As Vivek puts it, IKEA Foundation did not decide to partner with Enviu; both chose to work with each other to innovate something concrete. In a freewheeling conversation, he makes a cogent case for why partnerships matter.  

Why is partnership valuable to IKEA Foundation? 

As a strategic philanthropic organization, the challenges that we are trying to address need large-scale solutions. We recognize that no one has all the resources, voices, reach, and solutions to bring about transformative changes alone. We need shared and collective vision, values, will, and action to address the underlying causes of the biggest challenges we face today — the pandemic, the climate crisis, and increasing inequality. 

What have been your key learnings from your partnerships so far? 

The power of partnerships is immense. Partnerships provide opportunities for members to learn from each other’s specialist expertise, reduce individual risks, leverage resources and networks for systems change, and maximize the impact.  

Partnerships and collaborations need to have a long-term perspective. It requires patience, mutual respect, trust, value alignment, and letting go of individual egos to ensure a level playing field. Being part of a partnership requires looking at the big picture for the benefit of the common cause. 

Why does IKEA Foundation choose to work with Enviu? What excites you about the work we do together? 

We look at it as a two-way process. Both Enviu and IKEA Foundation have chosen to work with each other. So, I wouldn’t see it as IKEA Foundation deciding or choosing to work with Enviu. A key driver for us has been the opportunity to work together with Enviu to co-create models and solutions for a meaningful impact at scale. 

When we started having initial conversations with Enviu, there was mutual trust and alignment in terms of strategy, programs, and values. That clicked. We believe we can collectively create concrete solutions to bring about change while taking risks in starting new ways of working or supporting innovations. 

“It was Enviu’s venture-building expertise that drew us to this partnership. Enviu has demonstrated some promising and successful examples — SokoFresh in the food waste sector, and Khaloom and Uptex in the textile waste area. This gives an assurance of a sound methodology and thinking process behind identifying ideas, and building companies out of them with a long-term perspective.” 

Enviu has been a learning organization and exhibits great agility. This agility is pivotal in testing new models, quickly learning from them, correcting the course while looking at the big picture, and moving ahead.

Enviu has been able to catalyze impact because of our principle that partnerships are essential in bringing about long-lasting impact. How do you see IKEA Foundation’s role in the partnership? 

We see ourselves playing a number of roles in the partnership. We play an active role in providing catalytic support for innovations to test new ideas as well as ways of working and addressing a problem. We act as thought partners and create stronger networks by connecting the dots with like-minded organizations to amplify the work and contribute to ecosystem strengthening. And finally, as part of our catalytic support, we are working closely with Enviu, as well as other partners, to generate robust evidence and measure the impact of our work.   

Were there any particular challenges in the textile waste sector, and the post-harvest food ecosystem that prompted IKEA Foundation into a partnership? 

A common thread and challenge has been in addressing textile and food waste while improving the livelihoods of informal waste workers, local artisans, and smallholder farmers. The challenges are related to reducing the environmental footprint of waste.  

We are working towards optimizing resource use, reducing waste, or converting waste into a valued resource. 

In both sectors, the focus has been on creating sustainable business models to improve livelihoods for farmers and informal workers while addressing the problems of food and textile waste. 

For example, textile waste is growing in alarming proportions across many countries. At the same time, it’s an opportunity. It can be a resource for further use. So how do we create entrepreneurial opportunities that ensure waste can be reused, and doesn’t get landfilled or burnt, which could result in environmental damage and greenhouse gas emissions? The problem of waste requires a systems approach. This is where the work on the textile waste that Enviu is doing with CAIF (Circular Apparel Innovation Factory) becomes visionary.  

How do you see the partnership with Enviu growing in the future, and how can other foundations, too, play a role in the future? 

Our partnership with Enviu has evolved over the past three years. Our joint initiatives continue to grow through our ongoing programming in East Africa and India, to build sustainable ventures in circular textile waste and food systems. 

We see Enviu leveraging our catalytic support to get other stakeholders on board for scaling up impact. For example, we have funded the SEED phase of the circular textile waste model, and it is encouraging to see the interest from a few other foundations as well as the private sector.  

In terms of playing a role, donor-partnership alignment, too, is critical. It is important for foundations supporting Enviu to develop good alignment right from the early stages to ensure a coordinated approach to funding and support to Enviu. This will ensure a smooth flow of funds, seamless programming, and coordinated measurement of impact.  

This interview was first published in Enviu Impact Magazine 2022.

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