Collaborative Networks for Sustainability: The Role of Network Orchestrators in the Dutch apparel industry


In September 2019, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) in collaboration with Maastricht School of Management (MSM), started the 4-year project “Collaborative Networks for Sustainability (CONESU)”. The aim of the project is to develop tools, practices and frameworks that help guide network orchestrators in designing and governing collaborative networks for value creation and capture in the apparel industry.

Collaborative networks are emerging rapidly as the preferred way of organizing to address urgent societal challenges like persistent poverty, climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity. Yet, the long-term survival of such networks is difficult, and the value created in these networks can be lost if they dissolve. Network orchestrators are key players in ensuring that networks create value for their participating organizations like companies, NGOs and governments and that these organizations can capture this value in their individual organizations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the apparel industry where many collaborative networks for sustainability are active (e.g. Sustainable Apparel Coalition and Zero Discharge Hazardous Chemicals).

About the CONESU project
Network orchestrator is a new professional role performed by individuals and organizations. A network orchestrator organizes meetings and events to encourage knowledge sharing and creation, represents the network to outsiders, mobilizes resources like funding and expertise and addresses conflicts and tensions among network members. The CONESU project aims to support network orchestrators in performing this role effectively and help to professionalize network orchestration more broadly.

The project examines four collaborative networks in the apparel industry that strive for sustainability by attending their meetings, interviewing the network orchestrators and their network participants and observing the social interactions between these two groups. All aimed at developing tools, practices and frameworks to help network orchestrators in designing and governing collaborative networks for value creation and value capture.

Since collaborative networks have become key organizational vehicles for promoting transformational change towards sustainability in many industries, the projects aims to make an impact beyond the apparel industry. Conferences, publications and webinars will be organized to disseminate research results, best practices and tools to professionals. A scholarly community that conducts engaged research to aid professionals, such as managers, funders, and policy makers, in making decisions about establishing, joining or funding collaborative networks for sustainability as well as educational programs and executive trainings on network orchestration are targeted outputs of the project.

Project funded by RAAK-PRO grant
The project is funded by a grant of RAAK-PRO, which was earned by the AUAS with MSM as key consortium partner. RAAK-PRO grants are awarded every two years by the Taskforce for Applied Research (SIA), a division of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The project lasts until 2023.

AUAS and MSM joined forces in applying for the RAAK-PRO grant because both schools share their ambition to making the world a better place through responsible management education, evident in their membership of PRME for France and Benelux.  The two educational institutes also have ample experience in conducting applied research and designing curricula for impactful learning on a wide range of sustainability topics.

Related news
MSM collaborating for sustainable development

Maastricht School of Management ramps up commitment to sustainability and CSR