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Perspectives from the private sector: Challenges and opportunities in developing effective Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)

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20.09.2013

UNESCO recognizes that in the globalized world of today if we aim to achieve inclusive and sustainable socioeconomic development, it is required a stronger cooperation among all different stakeholders, namely governments, development partners, civil society and also business sector. Many of the world’s most pressing problems are too complex for any one sector to face alone. Notably, over the past ten years the private sector and other stakeholders have increasingly become active partners in helping the UN in achieving its goals, as a complement to government action. Private sector and new inherent approaches to better incorporate Social Responsibility into business will also have an important impact on achieving development objectives.

However, building positive and effective partnerships is not always easy; one key factor is definitely reaching mutual understanding.  In order to do so, UNESCO Bangkok has been promoting different internal opportunities to relate with the private sector and increase a constructive dialogue. For instance, on 11 September UNESCO Bangkok held a staff seminar specifically on “Challenges and Opportunities in Developing Effective Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs)”, inviting representatives from Diago, Microsoft and Cisco. The representatives shared their experiences and lessons they have learned about what it takes to develop effective public-private partnerships.

A number of critical elements and lessons learned emerged during the discussions on how to build sustainable partnerships. Microsoft has designed a five step planning process for working with NGOs. The first key area is the assessment of the priorities of the partners. The objectives and priorities of the public sector partner should be aligned with the priorities and values of the company as well as with its particular country plans. The next step is the partner selection process. Here, it is also essential to determine whether the partnering NGO has the capacity, experience and other funding sources. The selection process continues with the assessment whether the project goals, budget and measurable impact are well defined. During the fulfillment phase, the project commitment needs to be regularly reviewed in terms of objectives and budget. Best practices show that partners should be able to have concise and persuasive writing and communication for building successful partnerships. The demonstration of expertise, the use of company’s products and the ability to produce evidence such as impact stories are of immense importance as well.

From Cisco´s point of view, the first most critical element of a successful PPP is that partners must be equally committed in the partnership and contribute to its success through financial investment or investment in people or leadership. It is vital that all partners´ goals are aligned, and they have a clear vision of success. Long years of experience have shown that is necessary to seek commitment and support at the highest levels in each of the partnering organizations, otherwise, the work of people in the projects becomes challenging. Effective decision-making and implementation depends also on establishing enabling governance and operating structures. At the same time, partners also need to ask themselves how their investment will look like within 3-5 years. Instead of single, one-time transactions a focus on strategic multi-year and multiphased engagement is necessary for building sustainable partnerships. Another important challenge is to find balance between global and local standards. Localized solutions are necessary; however, these should result in globally recognized outcomes. Thus, finding balance between local and global elements is essential. Partnership programmes have to implement continuous monitoring and assessment of the outcomes, and they also have to take into account that markets mature with time. Therefore they have to be open to change and feedback in order to modify programs accordingly. In terms of timelines, the private-public expectations and constraints need to be considered right from the start. Fiscal years and financial timelines are difficult to plan in PPPs although such details are crucial for structuring the partnerships.

It is appearant from the companies view points that there is a great number of factors influencing the success of public-private partnerships. The alignment of the priorities and objectives of the partners´, as well as the planning and implementation of enabling operating structures are of great importance. It is also essential to continiously monitor the program outcomes and be able to work with flexible plans in order to adapt to changing situations. Also, sustainable partnership programs focus on developing long term strategic collaborations instead of one-time activities. These are built on the commitment of all involved partners and their investment in the relation building.