Oct 20, 2011 • By

Partnerships for change

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) held its Partnership Forum today in Washington, D.C. to draw attention to the growth of public-private partnerships.

I attended the forum, which brought together influential leaders from large corporations, nonprofits and the government. The energy at the forum today gives hope that solutions to large social issues can be advanced when public-private partnerships are forged successfully.

The day was filled with stories of successful partnerships and honest learnings from those on both sides of the table, a common theme being the need for shared goals and ongoing transparency.

A panel this morning hosted by USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah featured best practices shared by chief officers from the private sector whose companies have significant experience with public-private partnerships. The panel consisted of Walter Bell, chairman of Swiss Re America; Richard Clark, chairman of Merck; and Greg Page, CEO of Cargill.

Dr. Shah asked the panel about the reality that some in the development community, partners and local governments may feel some degree of skepticism towards brands as they seek to engage in development work around the world.

Page said that skepticism can be mitigated by being upfront and disclosing the company’s intention from the beginning: “If you cloak yourself in philanthropy at the outset, you shouldn’t be surprised when people are disappointed that you also have a business motive.”

Clark expressed the need to commit to long-term involvement in a development region and to think in 10-year horizons. This type of long-range planning is a strength that private companies can bring to development partnerships.

(Photo: USAID)

The next panel of the day focused on market-based partnerships for food security. Panelists represented companies that are improving food security through partnerships that expand economic opportunities, help develop sustainable supply chains and provide technical assistance. General Mills’ Senior Vice President of Innovation, Technology and Quality, Peter Erickson, participated, along with representatives from J.P. Morgan, Mars and The Advertising Council.

This panel discussed the significant social issues we face today and the need for companies to operate differently. Priscilla Natkins from the Ad Council summed it up well, “We live in a world of competing sorrows.”

Amy Bell of J.P. Morgan said her company is addressing this challenge by merging philanthropy with business. She now helps lead the “Social Finance” division within J.P. Morgan that seeks to achieve double bottom line of social benefit and financial return.

Erickson reiterated the need for likeminded collaboration: “We call our program Partners in Food Solutions for a reason. We can’t do it ourselves. We need partners.”

Also, as part of the day’s events, Dr. Shah presented General Mills with USAID’s Global Citizenship Award for the work the company is doing in Africa through Partners in Food Solutions (PFS). (To learn more about our PFS work, read Kevin Hunt’s blog post, “Global program links food and technology.”)

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, provided a great example of the benefits of development work around the world.

She talked about South Korea’s incredible advancement over the past 30 years, developing into the world’s eighth largest market for business services and a major source of trade for the United States. South Korea was once one of the largest recipients of U.S. assistance. Now it is a donor promoting food security around the world. South Korea is a great a testimony to the value of investing in emerging economies.

Jarrett summed it up by saying, “When we do good around the world, we do well here at home.”

Dr. Shah echoed her by saying, “The poor should do more than survive the next famine, health epidemic, commodity crisis. We should help them genuinely thrive. That is in our own national economic interest.”

Editor’s note: For more information about USAID’s Public-Private Partnership Week, visit the USAID website.