By David B. McGinty
This blog is part of a series organized by The Chicago Council’s Global Agriculture Development Initiative and InterAction to highlight the importance of public-private partnerships in agricultural development. This commentary is cross-posted with InterAction’s blog.
Complex agricultural development challenges cannot be solved by working in isolation. Whether public-private partnerships (PPPs) are intended to upgrade a value chain or facilitate access to capital, PPPs are a significant tool for enhancing private sector investments in agriculture and food security. PPPs designed to improve the livelihoods of smallholders (“inclusive PPPs”) may present additional challenges in capacity, infrastructure, incentives, cost and time. Inclusive PPPs involve a more intensive collaborative governance model that strategically incentivizes the local public sector, along with local and transnational businesses, to invest and take ownership of solutions that have positive development impacts for smallholders and vulnerable producers. Key international stakeholders have acknowledged a common agenda to utilize PPPs more effectively as tools for greater agricultural and food security development—from NGOs’ development and advocacy actions to USAID in its Feed the Future strategy to public and private leaders who stepped up at the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to deepen their role in development cooperation.
Agriculture and food security programs are best designed through a consultative process with host country governments to decide their needs, priorities and development strategies. Similarly, inclusive PPPs should be strategically designed with the goal of local ownership. As Charlotte Hebebrand stated: “Developing country ownership of PPPs is essential.” Ownership of inclusive PPPs requires that host countries recognize the value of partnering with the private sector and have the capacity to take ownership (e.g., in designing, negotiating and managing inclusive PPPs). Development projects focused on large or urban infrastructure projects often result in host country governments designing or leading in the PPP process. However, projects targeting smallholders often do not result in locally-led PPPs despite best attempts by NGOs and others to ensure a locally led planning process and host government inclusion in partnership scoping or implementation.
A best practice and goal for donors and NGOs should be to ensure that the “public” in inclusive PPPs means intentionally catalyzing ownership by local public institutions. As a core component of sustainable development, inclusive PPPs can be a tool to help countries transition from foreign assistance. Numerous key agriculture and food security stakeholders (including USAID and DFID among donors and World Vision among NGOs) have rolled out new teams and capacity building programs to change the culture of their organizations from traditional development actors to facilitators of cross-sector collaborations. Such efforts at market-led development through inclusive PPPs should characterize future development effectiveness.
In institutionalizing a vision and capacity in inclusive PPPs, donors and NGOs should empower host country governments to design, negotiate and manage inclusive PPPs. Frequently, donors and NGOs jump straight to developing inclusive PPPs directly or training local civil society organizations as PPP brokers, realizing short-term returns while potentially sacrificing long-term sustainability. Over time and with a strategic intent, donors and NGOs can support host country governments cultivate the necessary vision, trust and capacity for owning inclusive PPPs that help ensure a more positive impact of market-led development projects.
Before inclusive PPPs will be fully owned and leveraged, government leaders must reach a certain level of appreciation of the role of the private sector in development and the business case for development (including culturally-relevant corporate social responsibility (CSR)). Because a government’s role with the private sector must include creating enabling environments in addition to brokering PPPs, the government must have a clear vision of why collaboration with the private sector is an essential factor in meeting its development goals. Smallholder projects should incorporate culturally-relevant PPP and CSR thought leadership, programs and advocacy through targeted channels. Networks of private sector thought leaders, e.g., trade associations and local business schools, should be empowered to develop PPP and CSR frameworks. This work should establish national and regional communities and frameworks for CSR and communities of practice. Consider how the development community in the United States has benefited from the catalytic impact of USAID’s vision for the role of the private sector in development through, in part, the Global Development Alliance (GDA) and USAID Forward. As USAID has emphasized and incorporated PPPs into its modus operandi, over a thousand private sector partners have been energized and incentivized to develop and participate in dynamic PPPs.
The ability for partners to trust one another is critical in the effective design, negotiation and implementation of PPPs. Distrust between the public and private sectors in many countries is a barrier to even beginning conversations of collaboration. NGOs serving as brokers of PPPs often contribute trust-based relationships with local partners. Notwithstanding, a shared vision to sustainably improve the livelihood of smallholders and for developing countries to transition from foreign assistance should provide a continued inducement for donors (including outreach through NGOs) to intentionally reach out and support strong governance models that reach smallholders. For host governments to become a partner of choice of the private sector, good governance in agriculture-related ministries must extend all the way to smallholders—including transparency and reliability in, e.g., rural extension services and district-level service provision.
Capacity building programs are often the bread-and-butter of development funding. World Vision has learned that, to be assimilated and implemented, our internal PPP training programs must include formal training and tools accompanied by mentorship. Additionally, World Vision’s PPP brokering capacity must extend from field workers to the executive suite to ensure understanding, buy-in and effective implementation. If it is taken seriously that inclusive PPPs should be owned by host country governments, capacity building programs should likewise extend from the extension office to the minister’s office. Host government ownership of inclusive PPPs may require capacity building in brokering PPPs, which implicitly requires the local government institution to be capable of delivering consistent and quality service throughout the partnership according to the partners’ expectations.
PPPs inclusive of smallholders are not always straightforward and simple. And, as the development community continues to learn from experience, we owe it to our developing country partners to ensure they are equipped as partners of choice for the private sector.
David B. McGinty is the Director of Public Private Partnerships for World Vision, where he leads a team in designing, negotiating and supporting cross-sector collaborations in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and across Asia, as well as training and mentoring World Vision’s staff on PPPs. Mr. McGinty is also a board member of BoardSource, which supports, trains and educates more than 60,000 nonprofit leaders each year to increase their effectiveness and magnify the impact of their organization’s mission.