How to Engage: Tips for businesses and agencies

October 1, 2009

Public-private partnerships in development are necessary for the types of game-changing innovations that make lasting win-wins—some of today’s most pressing development challenges and business problems require solutions that have not yet been invented.  But how do those partnerships ignite?

Johan Åkerblom of SIDA and Jerry O’Brien of USAID had some ideas:
 
1. MAKE THE BUSINESS CASE – It’s necessary for long-term buy-in on any project: both agencies and businesses are looking for projects that can eventually sustain themselves.  “There must be a win-win situation—a win for poor people and a win for the businesses,” said Åkerblom.
 
2. AGENCIES: GIVE BUSINESSES VARIED INCENTIVES TO PARTNER – Like the story of Heinz in Egypt, businesses will face business problems and will find business-based ways to solve them.  Development agencies must seize any opportunity—however narrow—to show businesses that they can solve business problems more effectively, long-term, by considering development goals.  Make clear any incentives involving potential revenue, local buy-in, growth, geographic scope, and politics.

 
3. AGENCIES: FOCUS ON LARGE COMPANIES – They simply have more resources.  Successful local models are more readily replicable in large systems with large resources.  When one model is set, it can be diffused throughout the global company, for greater impact.
 
4. SET HIGH STANDARDS – Reputation matters and transparency is necessary for attracting partner agencies or businesses.  Report according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).  Follow the principles of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).  Encourage your partners to do the same.  
 
5. LISTEN TO THOSE WHO DON’T THINK LIKE YOU – Listen to potential partners, to local businesses, and to local people to learn about the long-term needs surrounding the specific business problem or development issue.
 
6. BUSINESSES: CALL DEVELOPMENT OFFICES DIRECTLY – Jerry O’Brien encourages companies facing business challenges to simply call the USAID office in whatever country they’re in and ask about potential collaborations or ideas.
 
7. DON’T SHIRK DUE DILIGENCE – Know who you’re potentially working with and know the political and business climate of where you work.  Always ensure that the host country knows about and is okay with your partnerships and projects within its borders.  
 
8. ESTABLISH VARIED METRICS FOR SUCCESS – Eventually, when a public-private partnership is sparked, establish metrics that apply to the definition of success for all parties involved.

Emily Drew is the Communications Manager and Writer at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value, the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University.