Getting the Most from Public Private Partnerships

When occupying as dynamic of an ecosystem as we do now, there are bound to be a few questions about the latest programming that everyone is talking about. CSR, sustainability, social entrepreneurship, and public and private impact investment have in one form or another been held up at the model of the future. Only to find the term overused to the point where cynics are allowed to enter and question whether or not any progress has actually been made… or if it is just more of the same.

Most recently PPP (Public Private Partnerships) has been on the minds of many as these programs (by design) offer something that social entrepreneurs and CSR managers cannot. Scalability and sustainability of programs. At the top of the list in this realm would be the work of major multilateral agencies like UNDP, large NGOs like Oxfam, and mega foundations like Rockefeller, Gates, and CGI. Which allow for huge knock on impacts on the wider ecosystem of small NGOs as their content is what PPP is ultimately trying to scale up.

Sounds like a plan right?

Well, not so fast. In fact, as my own experiences in developing several PPP partnerships and my recent trip to India highlight, there are some major challenges to developing sustainable partnerships. Particularly when a small to medium sized NPO is handed the responsibility of managing a large program. A program that is bigger than they are, requiring the hiring, training, and retaining the right people and development of secure long term funding

When I was in India, a number of the groups we met with who were on the programming side of PPP programs were not happy, and generally thought PPP was a fade. In their eyes it was turning NGOs into gov’t agencies.. without the guaranteed funding. Which means more opportunities for corporate firms to get engaged, but for that to happen it will take firms who are willing to commit to high dollar figures over the long term.

Pros:
1) PPP provides NPO/ NGO opportunity to scale (into the public domain)
2) Scale offers opportunity to remove operational inefficiencies from current system
3) PPP helps government solve common enviro/ social problems
4) Gov’t partnerships provide credibility to donors

Cons:
1)Scale becomes the future financial/ operational constraint of organization
2) Scaling platform exposes problems once ignored
3) Government needs for scale are often too great
4) NPO entering political agendas draws on needed resources
5) Many NPO not ready to open up to scrutiny .

Any good partnership, regardless of issue, structure, or duration, needs to be built on aligned interests and in respect of the need. From my observation, this does not happen enough, and when you get into the problems that exist within PPP (or any donation for that matter), this is usually where problems are rooted. The donor is either pushing too hard, or the benefactor is willing to do too much (i.e. scope shift) to make it happen. Compromises occur.

Transparency and accountability are important, but secondary in my mind as most MRV occurs after the impact should have occurred. So, the focus should be on goals and capacity to achieve vs. recording. With recording coming back as a way to improve on previous work.

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