Significant shifts continue to affect the way international development aid is being delivered. These movements began 15 years ago when “partnership” became the watchword for engagement. Governments, the United Nations and other international organizations soon had partnership departments. New alliances were formed between private sector entities and non-government organizations (NGOs), and the word “partnership” became rooted in
the language of development.
Now, a second shift is occurring. This latest movement is rooted in the private sector and has begun to expand the definition of partnership. The evolving definition of partnership incorporates the active engagement of the private sector and its employees – not only
as a delivery agent for programs and expertise, but more importantly as a co-investor in (and beneficiary of) effective development with a strong vested interest in its success.
In Canada, this shift in language has signaled changes in policy. Canada’s Minister of International Development, who leads the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), recently spoke of how the private sector could increase the effectiveness, efficiency, and timeliness of CIDA’s development activities. CIDA recently earmarked CAN$50 million to support the global corporate social responsibility initiatives of Canada’s extractive industry. Meanwhile, Canadian exporters – who are growing in new and emerging markets – are engaging in activities to reduce poverty. The Earth is moving.
Corporations know that partnering with stable governments with expanding economies in emerging markets creates jobs, reduces poverty, and is good for business. Consequently, development organizations able to align their objectives with the private sector will succeed while others may not.
The value of public-private partnerships
IBM works with international social enterprises – including Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) – to help enable its Corporate Service Corps and Executive Service Corps programs. IBM recognizes the value of a local partner with “feet on the street,” community knowledge, access to influencers, and the ability to design projects with high development value.
Most companies just don’t have that expertise.
For IBM, Corporate Service Corps programs deliver the triple benefit of leadership development, local community impact, and exposure to growth markets. For DOT, the partnership enables access to new markets, strengthens relationships with key decision makers, and provides exposure to the type of corporate expertise that can help the organization grow and increase its effectiveness.
When working with private-sector partners, DOT has found the following conditions critical
- Visions and values must align
- The partners must understand and share each others’ motivations
- Responsibilities, rules of engagement, schedules and deliverables must be
Perhaps most important, the partners must trust each other. After all, development is an investment and enlightened corporations understand that.
Grant Thomas is Vice President for Strategic Development at the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) in Ottawa, Canada.