The government, the private sector, and global society: How each is doing their part to solve the greatest challenges of our century

2390324This blog post was originally posted on the website for Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development.

Michael Sweikar is the Managing Director at the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) where he leads the planning and implementation of all efforts associated with the development of the new NDIGD, including proposal development, marketing, NDIGD events, and strategic planning. He earned his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame in 2003.

With 91 percent of global development funding now provided by nongovernment sources, how can we better understand the private sector’s interests in public-private partnership and its growing role in international development? The Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD) conducted a pilot survey of 150 development professionals to do just that. The survey revealed valuable findings.

NDIGD designed the survey questionnaire based on roundtable discussion sessions held at the October 2014 NDIGD Impact Forum in Washington, D.C. that included government leaders, corporate and foundation representatives, universities, and NGOs. 27 questions related to public-private partnership were asked via an online survey and approximately 150 development professionals responded.

GDF Panel Discussion

Notre Dame IGD’s recent Corporate Impact Forum, held in July, included such speakers (shown) as Melissa Paulsen, Dustin Holland, Carlos Passi and Patrick Bryski, representing the Mendoza College of Business, Better World Books, IBM, and Deloitte Consulting

According to the survey, the primary reasons why companies participate in public-private partnerships are to create opportunity for economic growth and establish markets for new products, recruiting and retaining talent, marketing, and establishing goodwill. Respondents are also clear with regard to which areas that companies most want to invest. Based on this survey, the top three investment areas for the private sector are health (64% of respondents), economic development (51%), and energy (45%). Garnering investment from companies for issues key to human flourishing such as democracy and governance (7%) seems more challenging, even though these issues are critical to long-term business operations.

In what areas do companies need assistance? According to the survey responses, sharing best practices and lessons learned from evaluations, consultation in proposal preparation and project design, and training for employees on topics related to global development are the top needs of companies.

Project timelines for public-private partnership projects do not appear to be that much different than timelines for a typical development project funded by government alone. Respondents indicated that 55% of public-private partnerships last between 1-3 years, with 27% extending 3-5 years, and only 12% extending 5 years or more. Some stakeholders questioned whether this type of project timeline is reasonable for creating sustainable change and the ability to evaluate the impact of that change. In the future, could the private sector be a catalyst for leading longer-term efforts?  For example, a company and a university could help lead five-year (or more) projects with local communities, establishing metrics to meet at check-in points throughout the project to continue and evaluate the impact of the effort in the longer-term.

How much do organizations want to rigorously evaluate their programs? When asked whether their organizations are interested in identifying and supporting more rigorous ways to evaluate their global development programs, 54% respondents indicated “always” or “often” while 34% indicated that they are “sometimes interested” and 12% are “never interested.” When looking at only corporate responses to this question, 45% of respondents indicated that they “always” or “often” support more rigorous ways to evaluate with 44% indicating that they are “sometimes interested” and 11% are “never interested.”

When asked which types of organizations provide the most financial support in a typical public-private sector partnership, responses highlighted companies (59%) and government (30%) as the leading entities expected to provide financial support with NGOs (9%) and universities (2%) providing less.

What are the primary benefits that private sector partners can bring to partnerships for global development? The three areas most cited were financial resources (selected by 59% of respondents); managerial skills (50%); and technology and innovation (52%).

What are the most valuable aspects that a university can add to public-private partnerships? The top three areas were research and analytics for decision-making (45%); intellectual leadership (45%); and innovation and technology (45%).

One of the topics in the survey discussed “hinge”[1] employees, defined in the survey as employees who work in organizations specifically to help bridge the gap between diverse partners. For example, these employees might work in government, universities, or NGOs, and have a role in their organization to engage with the private sector. 82% of all respondents said that hinge employees are valuable or extremely valuable. It appears that many organizations believe that these types of employees can promote better partnerships with more shared value.

Global practitioners were also asked about the most challenging aspects related to public-private partnerships. The number one issue highlighted was sustainability (31%), with transparency (20%) and communication (16%) also high on the list of challenges that public-private partnerships face. When looking at corporate responses only, sustainability was considered just as much of a challenge (30%) with transparency even higher (29%). Other challenges highlighted by respondents included cultural differences (e.g, business vs. government), sharing decision-making power, aligning interests, and keeping the project focused on local needs.

forumThese survey results and supporting data were presented at the July 29-30, 2015 Corporate Impact Forum held at the University of Notre Dame.

Attendees at the Forum included government leaders from USAID, U.S. Department of State, Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other agencies. Corporate and foundation representatives attending the forum represented 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 in the Forum to provide their recommendations on partnering with the private sector.

During the Forum, key corporate, government, NGO, and university leaders also participated in roundtable and panel discussions on 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

It is our hope that these responses not only help shed light on key private sector interests related to public-private partnerships and their role in global development, but will also help enable government, companies, universities, NGOs, and others to better design public-private partnerships that both align with their interests and private sector interests, but that most importantly keep global development interventions focused on the local needs of communities.

An integral part of the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, NDIGD seeks to provide best practices and lessons learned as part of its Corporate Impact Program and 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.


[1] See Chioda, Laura; de la Torre, Augusto; Maloney, William F.; Toward a Conceptual Framework for the Knowledge Bank, World Bank Policy Research Paper Sept. 1, 2014.  

Can you think of other ways public-private partnerships can work together towards global development? Let Irish Impact know what you think! 

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