The Beginning of a Beautiful Partnership?

The growing importance of the private sector is becoming a widely acknowledged fact in the development community. Now the problem for the development community is deciding how to properly incorporate the private sector into a public sector dominated field. Public-private partnerships seemed to be the solution, but effective and lasting partnerships are few and far between. To address the issue, The Partnering Initiative has released a paper titled “Unleashing the Power of Business: A practical roadmap to systematically scale up the engagement of business as a partner in development”. The paper provides recommendations for how the development community can promote public-private partnerships and ultimately take advantage of the advantages the private sectors provides to development work.

imagesIn order for public-private partnerships to be successful, the paper describes the need for what they call an “eco-system of support”. According to the authors, this eco-system is necessary for the successful fostering of public-private partnerships. The requirements include:

  • Funding organizations – partnerships must have financial support
  • Intermediary organizations – Organizations initiating partnerships
  • Training organizations and universities – necessary for capacity building
  • Consultancies – further support for partnership development
  • Research institutes – measures success of partnerships

Without the above five criteria, it becomes very difficult to foster strong partnerships.

The authors then provide a course of action within the specified ecosystem that will successfully develop public-private partnerships. The authors based the course of action on the perceived barriers including: lack of trust, timelines, communication difficulties, power dynamics, and differing priorities. The five critical steps include:

  1. Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 11.18.14 AMDeveloping trust between sectors – Done through increased communication and prioritization of a common interest
  2. Collaboration and aligning of development priorities – Streamline development process by creating joint development programs centered around combined development goals and resource partnerships
  3. Develop local platforms for partnership – Committees that create collaborative environment and reduce overall risk posed to private companies
  4. Measure partnership results and effectiveness – Evaluation of whether partnerships are having the desired impact
  5. Develop institutional capacity to maintain partnerships – Create support structure and training program to improve organization preparedness for partnerships

With such an extensive action plan, the question of ownership is crucial. Who is responsible for developing and evaluating partnerships? The authors argue that ownership must come from a cross-sectoral group, either created solely for this purpose or already in existence. Public-private partnerships involve a variety of development groups: local, international, public, private. A cross-sectoral group is the most appropriate owner because it will have representatives from the many parties involved in public-private partnerships.

A major concern with the course of action, however, is the bureaucratic nature of developing partnerships. Creating a cross-sectoral group to oversee partnerships, build institutional capacity, and evaluate performance is only going to contribute to the already bureaucratic nature of development work. The authors address this issue in the paper and claim the solution is to prioritize specific action. But this is not a realistic solution. Anyone working in development will say that having a common goal is not enough to overcome the constraints of bureaucracy. This course of action could just add more red tape for development organizations to get through.

images-1A course of action to foster public-private partnerships is absolutely necessary. The public sector needs to embrace the growing importance of the private sector and make room for it in the development sector. But is this approach truly the best way? The added bureaucracy alone seems daunting but the realism of achieving these goals must also be a consideration. The action plan sounds like a fine proposal but does not seem to be strongly grounded in the actual nature of development. The first point alone, improving trust between organizations, is a lofty goal. Those in the public sector do not trust each other after working together for decades. It does not seem realistic to assume private and public actors would suddenly trust one another after simply an increase in communication. Can we also expect these companies to directly align their goals?

Realistic or not, The Partnering Initiative has made a large contribution to the growing field of public-private partnerships by identifying key barriers and possible courses of action. It explores a topic with minimal research and opens the door for future studies on enhancing public-private partnerships.

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