Oct 19, 2011 • By

Solving social issues through partnerships

Public-private partnerships play an important role in producing development impact around the world. This week is Public-Private Partnership Week, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is hosting a few events to draw attention to it.

USAID is a trailblazer in public-private partnerships, so far creating more than 1,000 partnerships with more than 3,000 partners, leveraging billions of dollars and impacting the lives of millions of people in the developing world.

We talked with Dr. Maura O’Neill, the chief innovation officer at USAID and the senior counselor to USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah, to learn more about how public-private partnerships are helping companies effectively address large social issues.

(Maura O’Neill)

What is USAID?

O’Neill: USAID grew out of the Marshall Plan after World War II when the U.S. helped rebuild Europe. President Kennedy founded the agency 50 years ago, so 2011 is also our 50th anniversary. USAID makes up the third leg of the government’s foreign policy stool: defense, diplomacy and development. We work to help Americans stay safe and secure while the world also prospers. The agency is built on deeply held American values.

What is USAID’s message during Public-Private Partnership Week?

O’Neill: Our message is that we believe that in order for private businesses to thrive and the U.S. to be secure and prosper, we need to partner more deeply and more strategically around the world. This week is a celebration of public-private partnerships, which for us is a market-based approach to partnerships between the public and private sector.

We value deeply our relationships with private business and believe that together we will enable us both to thrive globally. We operate in complicated settings in the world, so only by this type of alliance can we craft solutions that really make sense.

What constitutes a public-private partnership?

O’Neill: Two-thirds of all economic growth in the world will take place in emerging markets. That will only happen if there are stable governments with adequate infrastructure and people aren’t ravaged by disease.

We work with private companies so that we can help keep Americans safe, but also create opportunities for others in the world to be lifted out of extreme poverty and have a long, prosperous life. Public-private partnership for USAID may involve using our expertise in areas such as dealing with regulatory barriers or by providing investments.

We look at what our assets are and what the company’s assets are to decide how together we can accelerate the prosperity of people around the world.

Can you give us some examples of successful public-private partnerships?

O’Neill: We work with Coca-Cola in 20 countries around the world to secure clean water. One of the real tragedies in the world is how few people have access to clean water. Coca-Cola needs clean water for their products, but they also recognize that communities need clean water to thrive. So, USAID works with Coca-Cola to create clean water systems. After the Haiti earthquake, we also worked with Coca-Cola to help them source mangos from Haiti for their Odwalla brand.

Another great example is our work with Cisco. We work with them to help provide Internet and broadband access around the world. Through this, farmers are able to gain access to information that helps them be more productive and increase their families’ income.

We are also working with the Gates Foundation to accelerate mobile money – turning every mobile phone into a cash register. There are only 500,000 bank branches around the world, but there are 4 billion mobile phones. Just as every family knows, if we could only deal with cash, it would be hard to save money. So, using a mobile phone as a device that can store money can really help make poor people more resilient to the shocks encountered in their lives like weather shocks, family emergencies, etc.

What are the hallmarks of a successful public-private partnership?

O’Neill: The best public-private partnerships take place when both sides understand what the other needs. We need to understand the key factors that drive profitability and productivity in a company’s business.

We want to be really clear upfront about the development outcome USAID is looking to achieve. Working together, we can really help reduce the poverty burden around the world.

Editor’s note: A public-private partnership General Mills has in place with USAID is the hunger-fighting work we’re doing in Africa through our Partners in Food Solutions program.

For more information about USAID’s Public-Private Partnership Week, visit the USAID website. A live stream will be available on that site during a forum on Thurs, Oct. 19. You also can follow #PPPweek on Twitter.

The photo used above is on the USAID website.