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Embracing change: delivering effective Public-Private Partnerships through a new lens

© Flickr/姒儿喵喵

By Anita Yang, Independent Consultant, London, UK

A prolonged economic recession, limited resources and a shift in how companies are approaching Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is reshaping the dynamics of traditional Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). 

Companies today are no longer simply interested in signing a cheque.  Instead, they seek non-profit partners that can create win-win programmes which deliver value for both society and the company's bottom line. In 2009, the LBG Research Institute published a report and survey to identify top issues facing corporate givers and foundations in the US, particularly as a result of the financial crisis.1 The survey findings indicated that organizations were attempting to better align activities with their strategic goals by re-assessing their grant-making criteria, by emphasizing partnerships with non-profits over cash donations, by seeking new partners who better matched their needs and by placing more emphasis on measureability and accountability of partners.  

In other words, corporations and foundations alike are looking at long-term goals when they select and work with non-profit partners in PPPs. The sentiments reflected in the 2009 survey are even more relevant today. Yet very few development organizations engaged in PPPs have successfully embraced this transition or have understood the ramifications on partnership activities.

Thus it is important to understand: What do these changes mean for development organizations who are seeking to develop and build PPPs with the private sector?  

First, it indicates that operating in a “business as usual” approach is not sustainable. Development organizations have tended to view the private sector as distant and passive donors.  However, companies are increasingly seeking a more active role and deeper engagement in their community activities. More companies are joining the examples of Microsoft, Cisco and Intel in personally designing and delivering larger education initiatives which have more defined activities that are often aligned to the strategic goals of the company. This shift will require development organizations to better understand the needs of the private sector and how to work effectively with them in delivering activities. 

Secondly, development organizations will need to think more innovatively about how they can create impactful partnerships with the private sector. Aside from financial support, the other immense assets of the private sector such as its global presence, networks, brand influence, online presence, in-house expertise as well as resources (e.g. products, office space, etc.) are often overlooked. 

Here are some types of potential partnerships to consider:

  • Research partnerships: Co-publishing and disseminating research by leveraging the networks, online presence and marketing expertise of the private sector can allow for a larger and wider audience reach. For example, the OECD and Pearson Foundation have partnered to document and showcase successful education initiatives currently improving student outcome in classrooms around the world in a series of engaging short videos which are user-friendly and insightful.2   

  • Advocacy partnerships: Developing joint advocacy campaigns can enhance effectiveness by utilizing the private sector's innovation, brand influence and social media savviness. For example, in 2008, Nike in collaboration with NoVo Foundation, the UN Foundation and Coalition for Adolescent Girls, launched a global Girl Effect movement to challenge people to think differently about the role of girls in development. To date, the initiative has been recognized through various awards for its impact on raising public awareness on critical issues such as getting girls educated.  

  • Funding partnerships:  Exploring multi-stakeholder partnerships or alternative funding mechanisms (e.g. match-funding, social impact investing) can support organizations in diversifying their funding sources. For example, through a new and innovative financing mechanism called social impact bonds (also known as “pay for success” bonds), an early child education programme in Salt Lake City, USA was able to raise money from private investors such as Goldman Sachs who lent the government $4.6 million for the programme.3 Social Impact Bonds enable the public sector to raise private capital from socially interested investors. 

And finally, development organizations will need to hold themselves to a higher level of accountability as private donors increasingly focus on measurability and impact of their programmes. Rather than look to outputs, an organization must be able to quantify the tangible results of its activities delivered.  Understandably, impact measurement is time and resource intensive along with the intrinsic challenges in measuring activities.  However, it is critical that this be done, not only for the sake of reporting but to inform implementation and to refine activities as it progresses. The Foundation Center has put together a comprehensive database of external impact assessment tools and resources that can be found at

In conclusion, development organizations will need to adapt to these new emerging dynamics.  It will require organizations to be more innovative, forward-thinking and impact driven in their work.   Organizations that succeed in this task will be rewarded with enhanced opportunities to achieve their vision and to better serve their beneficiaries.


1/ LBG Research Institute, “Making the Most of What We Have: Corporate Giving in the New Economy” Report, 2009

2/OECD and Pearson Foundation, “Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education” video series, 2012

3/New York Times, “Goldman Sachs to invest in early childhood education program.” 12 June 2013

Anita is a consultant who has worked in the US, UK and Asia focusing on public-private partnerships, project design and impact assessment in the areas of social entrepreneurship and education.  She is currently embarking on her graduate studies in Development Management at the London School of Economics.