CMMD Perspectives — Public Private Partnerships and the Sustainable Development Goals

The Brookings Institution hosted an event on Public Private Partnerships on 7 May 2015, based on the expectation that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) will be essential to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals will differ greatly from the Millennium Development Goals in many ways, and one of these is that they anticipate a much larger role to be played by the private sector. Governments, corporations and NGOs all have interests in achieving development goals and are all looking to get on the bandwagon. The event looked at what PPPs are, what makes a well-structured and successful PPP and how to measure the results of PPPs. There was a keynote from Roger Ford, Managing Director of Accenture Development Partners, followed by a panel discussing the role that PPP will play in the years to come.

Roger Ford explained that his company, Accenture, is a global not-for-profit consultancy firm of over 200,000 employees. He said that the fact that they are not-for-profit makes them accessible to organizations that don’t have a lot of money.  They can be around for the long term;  they can study and apply models to determine their effects over time. He described PPPs as a means to an end – applying market forces to solve problems. He explained that a partnership’s success depends largely on understanding where each of the partners is coming from. He said that private companies that are publicly traded have stakeholder expectations, and development projects can increase share prices and profits. He explained that if companies can figure out how to make profit in projects, it will naturally create more social impacts in the local area through diversification of supply chains, creating an inclusive workforce, and entering new markets. Employment, furthermore, brings better access to healthcare, education and basic services which is of huge benefit to local populations. He asserted that corporate supply chains even provide better access to food and medicines.

The core of Mr. Ford’s presentation addressed how successful partnerships hinge on a number of important factors. Firstly, he said the partners need to be ‘organizationally agnostic’. It might seem desirable to pursue a partnership with big names like Chevron or Coca-cola but it also may turn out that they are not a good fit or don’t have the time. He suggested that too often are there partners that will just write a check and ‘ride’ the partnership and not do their fair share of heavy lifting. He stressed that all partners need to see the shared value from the partnership for it to succeed. Companies also don’t want the negative publicity that comes from a failed partnership. Secondly, he said that the partnership needs innovative financing; it needs sustainable profit while also helping the world. It will need monitoring and evaluation frameworks to allow investments to flow in. Lastly, he said it needs to be sustainable and scalable. He said the partnership can’t depend on one condition being achieved, on one partner doing the work or one donor funding the whole thing. There should also be a plan for if it fails. He also stressed that with a multinational corporation’s involvements in partnerships, it’s important to understand where they are coming from – core business or Corporate Responsibility units can tell a lot about the likely length of their commitment.

Another point in his presentation is that partnerships can take a very long time to formulate. Even the concept note can take years. Of course partners need to be careful with whom they enter partnerships  for all the reasons aforementioned. However, another barrier is government requirements and regulations. Despite being the primary beneficiary, governments apply strict requirements and often have options with regards to who to partner with. If a project proposed seems too private sector focused they may not want to get on board. NGOs also have a lot on their plate; many are engaged in multiple projects and partnerships at once making it all that more necessary to find the right fit for future partnerships. He also argued that NGOs need to be better at acting like business people and that they are starting to do so. He said it is important for the entities that are entering these partnerships to be able to express their interests and shared values of the projects for it to become anything.

He concluded by observing that the innovations for development in the developing world can yield great returns in the developed world.  He used the example of mobile banking in Africa as an innovation that is being applied to markets in the developed world. PPPs, he said, are a big part of what is making these innovations happen. PPPs will be essential to achieving the sustainable development goals.

The panel looked at the ideas of shared values and interests and how it makes partnerships so strong. Angela Baker, Senior Manager of Wireless Reach at Qualcomm, said that working in the developing world allows Qualcomm to expand into new markets while also giving communities great communication abilities. She said the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of Qualcomm is focused on accelerating growth of mobile phone owners globally, realizing the competitive advantage and shared value that comes with it. Pascale Wagner, Country Director for Guatemala at Project Concern International, said that PCI, a non-profit NGO, has been working with communities in Guatemala on solutions to some of their problems and concerns. She said they are committed to getting the communities involved in these solutions. Along the way they pick up a lot of valuable information that has the potential to be beneficial to the private sector to get involved too. She stressed that getting the private sector involved is essential to achieving solutions on the scales that are really needed for desired results. Katherine Fritz, Director of Global Health and Development at International Center for Research on Women, said that sexual discrimination is one of the largest barriers to development in the developing world. She said the ICRW partners with many organizations to study and shed light on this development barrier. She said that they partnered primarily with government organizations but recently have partnered with companies like GAP to look at the impacts of projects on garment workers in India.

The event revealed that Public-Private Partnerships are essential to successful sustainable development. The development that can come from the partnerships is at the scale to achieve sustained growth that sees benefits for governments and corporations alike. It can give companies a chance to expand into new markets while also helping a country develop and improve the livelihoods of the communities impacted. What adds to this is the fact that the innovations that arise through this development can be shipped back to the developed world and revolutionize markets there.

From the CMMD Geneva Observer 25 May 2015

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