"I look at philanthropy the same way I look at my business investments," Muneer Satter, Founder and Chairman of Satter Investment Management, once told me. "I'm looking for exponential returns." In the humanitarian sector where I operate, we've unfortunately grown accustomed to less-than-optimal returns. We do our best to improve security and quality of life for the world's vulnerable populations, but we rarely make a dent in solving the most intractable conflicts or dire emergencies.
As I describe in my book, "To Stop a Warlord," nontraditional partnerships are one strategy that can make the impossible possible. In corporate and nonprofit spaces, and everywhere in between, when we collaborate in unprecedented ways, we buck the status quo and step outside our comfort zones. This retrains us to think without limits and gives us an augmented capacity to make major change in the world.
The results of nontraditional partnerships can be successful in solving problems and lasting in their innovation—and the results can also be surprising. The massive problem we were trying to tackle was to end a long-standing armed conflict in Central Africa where a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) had been terrorizing citizens of four countries for twenty-five years. More than one hundred thousand people had been killed, almost two million innocent civilians displaced, and at least thirty thousand children abducted and forced to become soldiers or sex slaves in what was already Africa's longest-running war.
Ending the LRA conflict seemed like a lost cause. But we set forth on forging an unlikely alliance of private and public entities—including philanthropists, humanitarian organizations, local civil society leaders, and the U.S. and Ugandan militaries—to intervene. By the end of our intervention, many top-tier LRA leaders and at least fourteen percent of the LRA's core fighting force had defected or been captured; and there had been a ninety percent reduction in LRA killings.
There are four major lessons to be drawn from the unparalleled success of this unlikely partnership.