Public-Private Partnership Best Practices 2015

Author: Michael Sweikar

It is now widely accepted that for global development to progress at the pace governments would like, it is imperative to engage the private sector. But how do government agencies, universities, NGOs, and foundations best engage the private sector to promote global development?  


This question, among many others related to engaging the private sector in global development work, was discussed in depth on July 29th and 30th when the University of Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) convened a group of stakeholders on the University of Notre Dame’s campus to discuss recommendations for the next generation of public-private partnerships.

Attendees at the Forum included government leaders from USAID, U.S. Department of State, Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other agencies. Corporate and foundation representatives attended the forum from a wide array of organizations, including Accenture, Coca-Cola, IBM, Lenovo, Bisk Education, Rockefeller, Capsim, GE, Deloitte, Cummins, PwC, SAP, Lilly, Innovates, Syngenta, and others. University leaders and NGOs also participated effectively in the forum to provide their recommendations on partnering with the private sector.

In giving the keynote address at the Global Impact Forum, Chris Jurgens, Division Chief for Global Partnerships at the U.S. Global Development Lab, highlighted USAID’s keys to partnership with the private sector and noted that it will be the sustainable partnerships we help spark that are owned by local stakeholders, and the solutions we help spur that are driven by entrepreneurs and markets that will have the most catalytic impact.  These types of partnerships have taken form in programs such as USAID’s Global Development Alliance (GDA), President Obama’s Power Africa initiative, and the four Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Regional Centers in Africa.

During the Forum, key corporate, government, NGO, and university leaders participated in roundtable and panel discussions on some of the following topics:

·       The Next Generation of Public-Private Partnerships

·       Connecting through the USAID Global Innovation Exchange

·       Access to Talent in Your Organization: Employee Engagement

·       A Strategic Approach for Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning for the Private Sector

·       Identifying Global Needs and Business Opportunities: A Practitioner’s View

During these discussions, participants identified ten best practices for partnership with the private sector:

1.     Sustainability: The challenge of sustainability was highlighted across public and private sectors. Organizations participating in a public-private partnership, particularly the private sector, want to know what long-term sustainability will look like for the project. Will the project continue to require charitable donations, or is there an economic pathway for scale-up through investment?  Will local communities be able to maintain the program without external funders? With any global development intervention, sustainability is key, but public-private partners want to specifically focus on identifying and funding programs that will create impact long-term.  


2.     Education as a catalyst for other areas of global development: Companies indicated that corporate cultures can be more open to supporting projects in areas such as health, energy, and economic development. Garnering financial support from the corporate sector for issues key to human flourishing such as democracy and peacebuilding is more difficult, even though these issues are critical to long-term business operations. One approach to partnering with companies to fund these areas of global development could be through the lens of education. Many company representatives indicated that education is an area that can receive significant buy-in from the private sector, and can relate directly to supporting issues such as democracy and peacebuilding.

3.     USAID Innovation Exchange as a marketplace: Organizations recognize the challenge in building strong public-private partnerships and identifying the right innovations for investment. To help connect partners, USAID is launching the Innovation Exchange—a marketplace that connects funders, innovators, users, and solution seekers to meet some of the most pressing global development challenges. The Exchange is a new online platform to enable networking with partners and design innovative global development projects with the private sector, government, universities, nonprofits, and individual entrepreneurs.

4.     Universities as a convener to break down silos: In addition to other areas of expertise that universities can provide as part of public-private partnership such as monitoring and evaluation, innovation, research, and analytics, both companies and government leaders expressed that universities play a key role as a convening power to provide both government and corporate stakeholders the space needed to analyze best practices for public-private partnership. Stakeholders agreed that universities can help break down the barriers between distinct types of organizations and silos within organizations.

5.     Employee engagement is a top priority for the private sector: One of the top reasons that companies support global development efforts is because they want to engage their employees. In many companies, employees want to see evidence that the company is improving the lives of others throughout the world. When employees are involved, it is easier for companies to justify a financial investment, and they do this in a variety of ways: giving employees pro-bono hours that can be used for a project of their choice, or managing large-scale global development projects where their employees are playing both supporting and lead roles during implementation. Many companies agreed that they want to show that the company’s global development efforts are having impact.

6.     The need to define terminology for partnerships: It can take a lot of work to align distinct types of partners who can develop a project that accomplishes a mutual goal. One way to make this effort easier is to initially define a baseline terminology for partnerships. Government, companies, universities, and NGOs often have different terminology for the same thing. It is important to understand from the beginning what a partner means by terms such as sustainability and evaluation, for example. Agreeing on language from the beginning can help the partnership run more smoothly in the long-term.

7.     Project timelines: Results from the 2015 Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development public-private partnership survey indicate that most public-private partnership project timelines last between 1-3 years. Stakeholders questioned whether this type of project timeline is reasonable for creating sustainable change. It was recommended that the private sector could be a catalyst for leading longer-term efforts; for example, a company and a university could lead five-year (or more) projects with local communities, establishing metrics to meet at check-in points throughout the project to continue the effort longer-term.

8.     Good metrics are key to determining success: For all organizations, good metrics are key to knowing whether success was achieved in development projects. Metrics could range from more rigorous impact evaluation to a basic monitoring system depending on the nature of the project, but it was agreed that is critical to define those goals from the beginning. In any public-private partnership, it is important for the type of method that will be used is defined by partners from the outset so they know where the goal line stands. It is also critical that appropriate funding is allocated to support these monitoring and evaluation efforts.

9.     Maintain focus on local communities: Because creating public-private partnerships can bring additional challenges in communication, decision-making power, and organizational and cultural differences, it is critical to maintain the overall focus of the global development effort on local community needs on the ground. Without this focus, local needs and local buy-in can take a back seat to the conversation between government, the private sector, and other organizations aligning their objectives. Throughout the conversation, local actors must have a voice and are placed at the center of the decision-making process if the goal is sustainable change.

10.  Value of “hinge” employees: One of the key lessons learned from the 2014 NDIGD Impact Forum that was highlighted once again by stakeholders in 2015 was the value of having hinge employees in any organization who can serve as a bridge between organizations (e.g., academic institutions and corporations, or NGO implementers and corporations). These employees can promote better partnerships with more shared value. Hinge employees help bridge the gap in understanding, and must possess a unique skillset to work between distinct organizations and speak credibly to both parties. From the Forum discussions, it appeared that the need for dedicated hinge employees is growing.

As government, NGOS, universities, and others work to engage more frequently the private sector in designing and implementing more sustainable global development interventions, it is our hope that these recommendations can help provide guidance that will help foster stronger and more fruitful collaborations in the public-private partnership space.

An integral part of the University’s Keough School of Global Affairs, NDIGD works to promote human dignity through global partnerships and applied research, assessment, monitoring, evaluation, and training. The Keough School, scheduled to open in August 2017, will prepare students for effective and ethically grounded professional leadership in government, the private sector and global civil society, engaging them in the worldwide effort to address the greatest challenges of our century.