Most of my work is done with NGOs and n the civil society sector.  But as I feel strongly about cross-sector exchange, and finding few conferences that bring together diverse perspectives, I try to go to meetings that focus on different sectors.  Last week I went to a business conference on “Emerging Markets” in which the conference organizers included sessions on Africa, China, India, and Latin America.  Using my cross-sector lens, here are some of my observations:


  • Finding the right global/local balance, customizing what needs to be ‘core’ and what can vary locally is a challenge faced by all entities that operate internationally no matter what sector they may be in.
  • All sectors are grappling with the challenges of how to deal with and analyze increasingly large amounts of data.
  • Although the regulations they pass can either help or hinder different goals, government tends to be an important focal point of the other sectors.
  • The growth of ‘the middle class’ around the world (with more education as well as spending capacity) is increasing expectations from both the perspective of consumers and civil society participation.
  • There is a wider range of countries – both in the governmental and business sectors – looking to provide aid, investment and/or develop partnerships.

Some Variations

  • Business seems to have more of an orientation towards ‘transformation’, often now referred to under the catch-all phrase of ‘innovation’ and receiving attention in all sectors.
  • The business sector is particularly good at ‘taking risk’.  Risk is often seen as multi-faceted and business people will look to diversify it and learn from failure, rather than being afraid of risk.
  • Entrepreneurs who cannot initially find capital will ‘bootstrap’ their initial operations rather than waiting to get more significant backers.
  • Business is the more proprietary sector, often being concerned about sharing many types of learnings that they feel they can either charge for and/or want to keep from potential competitors.

We often hear talk about “what NGOs can learn from business.”  As a demonstration that when we have more opportunities to converse cross-sectorally that learning goes in all directions, one representative of a large international bank noted to me that he thought we should also acknowledge what business can learn from NGOs. In our conversation about engaging internationally his example was the time that NGOs put into nurturing local relationships.