Cross-sector Solutions to Complex Environmental Issues

Generously funded by:


Meet the research team:

Professor Haiying Lin

Oana Branzei: University of Western Ontario

Jonathan Doh: University of Villanova

Miguel Rivera-Santos: Babson College

David Graham Hyatt: University of Arkansas

Bob Oliver (Practioner): Pollution Probe


Cross-sector partnerships are voluntary collaborations between two or more organizations with fundamentally different governance structures and missions that help them pursue a common set of goals, often with a social or environmental mandate.  In today’s complex business world, firms increasingly collaborate with governmental institutions, NGOs, universities, research institutes and labs to enhance market opportunities and to address institutional challenges. Both NGOs and corporations initiate and invest in cross-sector partnerships to address complex environmental issues, such as climate change, because of the enormous scale and uncertainty of these issues. Such partnerships work at the intersections of markets and regulations to bring about social and environmental change that neither partner alone could achieve.

The importance of strategic alliances in environmental protection notwithstanding, we know little about how organizations from different sectors can come together to address environmental issues in a manner that may achieve greater impact than their resources or competencies taken separately may afford. Our five-year SSHRC project aims to enhance the theoretical understanding of, and generate practical solutions for pressing Canadian environmental issues by exploring 1) the configurational, temporal and geographical characteristics of cross-sector work in addressing complex environmental issues; b) the emergence and evolution of cross-sector alliances in response to such issues (determinants and dynamics, in Canada and the US); c) the processes by which cross-sector partnerships adapt and partners morph as the issues they came together to address continue to change.

To address these questions, we adopt a team-based approach that brings together five of the leading academic thinkers that work actively on cross-sector solutions to environmental problems and one practitioner with direct experience in designing and implementing cross-sector partnerships to address environmental problems. SSHRC funding will enable us to extend this line of inquiry to understand when and how cross-sector alliances can effectively address complex environmental issues.

Research activities and outputs:

We organized an Academy of Management symposium “cross-sector solutions to complex environmental issues” in August 2012 to disseminate our recent research progress. These presentations include:

1. Between Informal and Formal? Cross-Sector Interactions in Developing and Conflict Countries, by Ans Kolk, University of Amsterdam

2. Cross-sector governance: from local networks to social and environmental partnerships at the BOP, by Carlos Rufin, Suffolk University and Miguel Rivera-Santos, Babson Colleg

3. Building and Scaling a Cross-Sector Partnership: Lesson from the Oxfam America & Swiss Re HARITA Project, by Jonathan Doh, Villanova University; Ted London, University of Michigan; Vasilia Kilibarda, University of Michigan

4. Cross-sector Attractors: Choosing Partners for Environmental Breakthroughs, by Haiying Lin University of Waterloo; Oana Branzei, University of Western Ontario

5. Cross-sector alliances for environmental improvements, by Haiying Lin, University of Waterloo and Azin Rastan, University of Waterloo

6. Cross-sector Solutions to Supply Chain Management, by David Hyatt, University of Arkansas and Nicholas Berente, University of Georgia

7. The Engagement of Firms in Environmental Collaborations: Existing Contributions and Future Directions, by Ulrich Wassmer, Concordia University