At Umalia we like to talk about partnerships and societal impact, as you may have noticed. These are two complex topics that are challenging to reconcile with the day-to-day realities of our organizations, and yet... these are major topics that companies cannot ignore.
If there is one place where the partnership culture must be present, it is in the DNA of industry clusters. Collaborating and committing to a common cause is the basis of their raison d'être. We first began this reflection some time ago with Cargo M, a Montreal transportation and logistics cluster. Then, recently, we had the chance to talk with one of the most active and innovative industrial clusters not only in Montreal but also internationally: Aéro Montréal, an aerospace industrial cluster. And more specifically with Charlotte Laramée, Vice President, Operations.
The missions of industrial clusters resonate with us because they allow, by their nature and vision, systemic changes. We are convinced that it is by multiplying systemic and multisectoral approaches that we will be able to respond to societal challenges and issues. This type of clustering is aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals' goal #17 on partnerships for the achievement of the goals, which is based on the premise that " A successful development agenda requires inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, and upon a shared vision and shared goals."
"The cluster exists because of its members, and their willingness to come together."
As Charlotte Laramée, Vice President Operations, points out, industry clusters exist because the players in a sector have chosen to work together to better address issues common to their sector. This approach is particularly powerful because it is a true systemic lever to address and overcome challenges and remain relevant.
A cluster also provides a single voice that represents the entire industry in a given territory, making it much easier to communicate with different levels of government, the academic network, civil society, other industries and even other clusters internationally. Within the industry itself, the cluster enables the release and circulation of information to strengthen links, create opportunities and multiply connections. This greatly encourages technical innovation, through the creation of partnerships, sharing of expertise, networking, etc. But we are noticing that more and more, social innovation is also benefiting, if we think, for example, of avant-garde initiatives such as labor sharing.
In addition to addressing current issues, these associations also help to better prepare the sector for the challenges and opportunities of the future and to address cross-cutting issues together.
"We're always looking to align the vision of the cluster with the concrete needs of businesses."
"People dare to say the real issues and the right decisions are made because we all are in a position to be constructive. "
Even when a cluster is born out of a common impulse from its members to gather and work together, the relevance of this gathering and the meaning of its activities must be continuous and felt to keep the initial mobilization. How to ensure relevance over time?
According to Charlotte Laramée, one of the key ingredients to maintaining the relevance of the cluster is listening.The cluster's ability to listen to the needs of businesses in real time allows it to be relevant in the information it provides to the various levels of government on the industry's problems and issues. At the same time, the quality of listening to governments regarding their intentions and projections allows the cluster to orient companies on regulatory, political and economic trends. In the case of Aéro Montréal, this role as intermediary is recognized and acknowledged and allows it to directly manage government programs to ensure their deployment in the industry.
The relevance of the activities of a cluster like Aéro Montréal must be felt by its members in their daily activities, making each meeting constructive for the members and for the industry in turn.
In this kind of multi-stakeholder partnership, it is necessary to have a visible added value for both cluster employees and members so that all find meaning in their involvement. The added value of the cluster and its relevance depend on the capacity of its members to be in a constructive position. The challenge for Aéro Montréal is to create and maintain a framework for discussion and work in which participants put personal interests aside for the benefit of the group as a whole.
Finally, when it comes to relevance, one last key element to note is the governance of the cluster itself.
"The key is to have multiple ways of doing things, different approaches, and always be concrete."
An important element in guaranteeing much sought-after relevance is the governance mechanisms put in place. What could better guarantee the relevance of the cluster than a shared governance at all levels with people from the industry?
Shared governance is a very interesting practice to observe at Aéro Montréal. Indeed, the strategic axes and pillars benefit from a double perspective which, enriched by the presence of a member of the industry, are better anchored in the reality and the issues of the companies in the sector.
This also allows for strong, visible action, which establishes the credibility of the cluster and its activities and brings the benefits of transparency, rapid information sharing, efficiency, and mobilization of members. This strong and direct link with its members allows the cluster to remain agile, since it is in contact with information and actors on a regular basis.
"When we see the crisis we are going through, we know that it is by working together that companies will be able to get through it."
We are currently noticing that the reasons for setting up partnerships are multiple. Whether it is the takeover of a family business, mutualization, the search for complementarity to remain relevant or consolidation to respond to an industry in transformation, we find these trends in the aerospace sector.
There are indeed many reasons to setup a partnership, but for happy and fruitful partnerships, a few basic elements are required. As we have already seen here, the willingness to work together, when it emanates from the organizations' mission and vision - in other words, when it is genuine - is an essential element.
But willingness to work together is not enough. This association must be in response to a real need on which objectives for success can be set in a vision shared by the potential partners.
What we are missing is the opportunity! The right subject. The one that will allow each party to bring something to the table and that will allow the partners to be complementary. Working in partnership is more complex than working alone, so if you have the skills on a particular topic and you don't need complementary skills: go for it... alone.
In our discussion with Charlotte Laramée, it becomes clear that one issue in particular stands out as THE unifying issue. The environment.
"There is the need to go green because it is obvious that it's the key to the recovery, to growth, innovation and attraction of talent."
As scientists and numerous citizen movements regularly remind us, it is urgent for companies in all industries to act on the environment and to collaborate so that the different sectors become advocates on this subject and are able to innovate. With the younger generations increasingly aware of the environmental impact of companies and certain sectors in particular, this is a commitment that will be increasingly sought after by new talent.
Among the contributions of the cluster to the environmental issue, we note, among others, the ability to create spaces for reflection on this subject, especially for the smallest companies in the sector. In the daily life of these SMEs, there is not always the space and the means to address and act on these issues. Pooling efforts is key if we want to bring about systemic change and this starts with a space for dialogue, awareness and joint reflection.
The environment was already an important topic for the industrial cluster before the pandemic and it had just created a work stream on the subject. Then, faced with the urgency of the COVID crisis, Aéro Montréal had to show agility and adjust its priorities, but it still managed to maintain this reflection, in parallel with that on the recovery. In particular, it has been able to remobilize resources to think about the greening of the industry in the post-covid recovery and thus link these two subjects.
We are perfectly aligned with AéroMontréal's vision of the environment as a unifying issue. As Charlotte Laramée points out: "The environment is finally the subject that allows all energies to be united around a common objective."
Indeed, of all societal issues, this is undoubtedly the most cross-cutting as it knows no territorial, governmental or sectoral boundaries. The effects of climate change will affect everyone, from North to South, from East to West. This environmental issue has systemic repercussions (such as climate justice, equity, education...) and requires the collaboration of all for responses that are themselves systemic. These responses must of course, be adapted to the context, but they must come from all sectors and each actor must take concrete action within a common vision.
"It has to be through collaboration with other clusters and other sectors."
"Multi-sector collaboration is essential."
These systemic changes and the technological innovation that is so desperately needed can only truly happen if the silos come down and collaborative grounds are created not only within industries but also between industries. As Charlotte Laramée mentions, the aerospace cluster does not operate in isolation. These connections with other sectors will need to multiply and diversify so that the innovations and resources of each sector can be aligned to serve a common vision.
The actions, projects and partnerships that the different sectors will manage to link together will certainly be the most powerful levers to alter the course of things and avoid the scenarios that scientists are warning us about today.
Through the testimony of Aéro Montréal, we have discussed some of the keys to successful partnerships, whether in terms of the necessary ingredients, governance practices or the reasons that lead to the creation of a partnership. We will conclude this reflection with an invitation to think about partnerships as keys to societal issues that are meaningful for individuals, organizations and society. Do not hesitate to share with us your ideas on the subject via our social networks!