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Why the world needs tri-sector leaders

By Nick Lovegrove and Matthew Thomas, contributing writers, Harvard Business Review |

The critical challenges society faces — such as water scarcity, access to education, and the rising cost of healthcare — increasingly require the business, government and nonprofit sectors to work together to create lasting solutions. But this is only possible if the senior executives of our leading institutions are what Dominic Barton, Worldwide Managing Director of McKinsey & Company, refers to as “tri-sector athletes” — leaders able to engage and collaborate across all three sectors.

Our research at The InterSector Project shows that these leaders often have prior experiences in each sector and a unique ability to navigate different cultures, align incentives and draw on the particular strengths of a wide range of actors to solve large-scale problems.

Take water scarcity. A potential 40 percent gap between global freshwater demand and supply by 2030 puts billions of lives — and dollars — at stake. And all three sectors have skin in the game. For agri-food and beverage businesses, fresh water is an essential ingredient in their production process. Governments are often the stewards of water and regulate its use. Nonprofits work to ensure access to clean water and conservation of watersheds and the environment.

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