Public-Private Partnerships: The Vital Role of Business in Global Development

November 15, 2017


President and CEO, Global Communities shares insight on the role of business and partnerships in global development.

The challenges that face businesses looking to invest in emerging economies are the same challenges that face the communities themselves. The need for good governance and transparency; the requirement of a strong business-enabling environment and market accessibility; and, of course, peace and stability. As a global development organization, Global Communities is committed to creating these conditions. And one of the most important ways to do so is through public-private partnerships.

This runs much deeper than traditional concepts of corporate social responsibility. Not long ago, this was all-too-often considered a charitable addendum to the business side of companies, distinct from their primary priorities and inner workings. But today, many forward-looking companies have integrated CSR into corporate strategy and business operations. At the recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 2017 Corporate Citizenship Conference, I shared some of my experiences as President and CEO of Global Communities on a panel discussion on the future of global development. I focused on how important it is to create and sustain an enabling environment for the private sector, which now plays such a critical role in international development. I not only discussed the why, but the how – and most importantly, the outcomes that materialize and grow from such partnerships.

One of the companies Global Communities has partnered with in important, sustainable ways is the John Deere Foundation. Our partnership started in India in 2011 with a community-driven project to improve access to basic services and infrastructure, all with the overarching goal of improving livelihoods for the poorest of the poor. The results included more affordable housing, better access to hygiene and sanitation, vocational training, and improved access to social programs, all near John Deere offices. In addition, we developed a volunteer program in India for John Deere employees. The volunteer program helps employees to meet their agricultural clients in ways that are different from what their official jobs entail, and helps them to understand their clients’ needs and livelihoods.

Building on the community-centered approach, we further partnered with the Foundation in Brazil to strengthen community development by helping to strengthen community development of John Deere home communities by training and organizing civic leaders, investing in community institutions and strengthening youth development through corporate volunteerism. This program, too, is in close proximity to John Deere factories, which strengthens relations between John Deere and the community, in a way that is constructive for both.

In addition to replicability in vastly different countries such as India and Brazil, we have since partnered with their Foundation in Floreciente, a low-income neighborhood in Moline, Illinois, near John Deere headquarters. The program helps stimulate economic development opportunities for small businesses and households by connecting them with the greater regional economy. Together with the Foundation, Global Communities is engaging residents to improve quality of life using the same participatory approaches that have improved quality of life and community cohesion and youth development in Brazil.

These partnerships help to improve the local business environment and livelihoods opportunities in these environments and also help develop strong relationships between John Deere and the communities who live near their offices, providing community and company benefits.

Global Communities has partnered with many companies and corporate foundations to have similar types of programs, including Caterpillar Foundation, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program, the MasterCard Foundation, and many more. All of these programs, whether focusing on vocational training to improve local livelihoods or support for communities affected by conflict or poverty, create a better environment for communities and businesses, improve economic outlook and help create a more stable environment. At their heart, all of these programs are community-driven and focused on the grassroots needs, building from the ground up. These partnerships go a long way in leveraging both human capital and the knowledge base that already exists to help foster change and improvement in the development world. Removing any and all barriers to mutually beneficial partnerships, especially in underserved corners of the globe, is smart business and good development.  

[Editor's Note: David Weiss was a featured panelist during the 2017 Corporate Citizenship Conference: Opportunity Forward on November 14. He spoke alongside panelists from DSM North America, United Nations Development Programme, and Walmart Stores, Inc. For more information on Opportunity Forward, click here.]