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Back | Programme Area: Markets, Business and Regulation (2000 - 2009)

Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development

Date: 15 Aug 2006



Theme:
When the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) holds its 15th session in New York in 2007, five years will have passed since the UN committed itself to promoting public-private partnerships for sustainable development at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa. The year 2006 therefore seems an opportune moment to hold a conference that takes a look at what we know, what we don’t, and what we need to know about public-private partnerships and their effects in developing countries. The aim of the conference is to give an update on the debate about the potential and limitations of PPPs for sustainable development in relation to service delivery, poverty reduction, and political participation as well as assess some of the preliminary experiences with the implementation of PPPs since 2002.

1. Workshop Coordination:

The workshop is coordinated by Peter Lund-Thomsen, Assistant Professor, Center for Business and Development Studies, Copenhagen Business School & Peter Utting, Deputy Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in cooperation with ReNED.

2. Workshop objectives

Voluntary, multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable development proved to be an important outcome of the United Nations (UN) World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002 The Division for Sustainable Development (2005), Partnerships for Sustainable Development – Update, Background Paper No.1, DESA/DSD/2005/1. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation recognized the potential contribution of partnerships to agreed commitments, and called upon international institutions to “encourage partnership initiatives for implementation by all relevant actors to support the outcomes” of the WSSD Commission on Sustainable Development CSD (2004) Partnerships for Sustainable Development, Report of the Secretary General, E/CN.17/2004/1. In early February 2005, more than 300 of such partnerships had been registered with the Secretariat of the UN Commission on Sustainable development Division for Sustainable Development 2005. At the same time, multilateral and bilateral aid agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme and Danida have initiated new partnership programs as part of the follow-up process to the WSSD See e.g., Danida (2004) Public Private Partnerships in the Development Cooperation – Five New Programmes, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Copenhagen.

Partnerships between the private sector and public/non-profit institutions are often portrayed as ‘win-win’ situations that benefit all actors involved while the principle of additionality means that a partnership leads to an – in the language of Danida - improved ‘contribution to poverty reduction and sustainable development’ Ibid.. In a similar vein, the UNDP Commission for Private Sector Development has argued that public-private partnerships can facilitate access to broader financing options, assist skill and knowledge development, and make possible sustainable delivery of basic services, particularly energy and water. UNDP’s Commission on the Private Sector and Development (2004) Unleashing Entrepreneurship – Making Business work for the Poor, UNDP, New York

Whereas an international aid consensus on the desirability and effectiveness of PPPs seems to be developing, several unanswered questions remain from an academic point of view. First, it is unclear what the PPP concept covers. Activities as diverse as corporate philanthropy, research collaboration between private sector enterprises and universities, co-regulatory arrangements to implement voluntary codes of conduct, corporate social responsibility projects, and contracting out of public services, e.g., water supplies, are all lumped together under the heading of PPPs Richter, J. (2004) Public-Private Partnerships for Health: A Trend without Alternatives?, Development, vol. 37, no. 2. A pertinent question is therefore whose interests and objectives are being promoted in the name of PPPs?

A second important question relates to the actual impact of PPPs in relation to ‘sustainable development’. Whereas the donor discourse emphasizes the potentials of PPPs to create win-win situations, it has largely ignored insights from previous academic work in this area See e.g., Utting, P. (2000) Business Responsibility for Sustainable Development, UNRISD Occasional Paper No. 2 & Brinkerhoff, J. Partnership for international development - Rhetoric or result? Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, CO, 2002 that underline the need to specify when, how, where, and why PPPs are likely to support/undermine public policy goals. More critical academic work has emphasized the limitations of PPPs in relation to possible cooptation of NGOs, state, and UN agencies; a weakening of efforts to hold transnational corporations accountable for their actions; and the development of an internal culture of censorship in non-profit organizations Richter 2004.. In academic terms, our knowledge of the potentials, limitations, and actual impacts of partnerships in the post WSSD period is limited. In particular, there is a need to develop more rigorous methodologies for assessing the impacts of PPPs on service delivery, poverty reduction, and political participation. Finally, few studies have documented the impact of the PPP commitments undertaken by governments in the post WSSD-period.

When the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) holds its meeting in New York in 2007, five years will have passed since the UN committed itself to promoting PPPs for sustainable development at the WSSD in Johannesburg. The year 2006 therefore seems an opportune moment to hold a conference in Copenhagen that takes a look at what we know, what we don’t, and what we need to know about PPPs and their effects in developing countries.

The objectives of the conference are therefore:
a) To outline the potentials and limitations of PPPs for sustainable development in relation to service delivery, poverty reduction, and political participation.
b) To assess our current state of knowledge in relation to the development of methodologies that allow us to assess the impact of PPPs.
c) The evaluate the actual impact of PPPs in developing countries in the post WSSD period.

3. Target Group:
The target group includes the academics, professionals & practitioners from government, UN agencies, NGOs, consultancies, aid agencies, businesses and graduates who are interested in the topic. The workshop is open to all.

4. Invited Speakers & Paper Reviewers:
The workshop is financed by the Center for Business & Development Studies & ReNED: Workshop participants (speakers & paper reviewers) include:
§ Darryl Reed, York University, Canada
§ Ananya Mukherjee Reed, York University, Canada
§ Peter Utting, UNRISD, Geneva, Switzerland.
§ Ann Zamitt, UNRISD, Geneva, Switzerland
§ Uwafiokun Idemudia, Lancaster University, UK
§ Uwen E. Ite, Shell Nigeria Dr. Ite will join Shell Nigeria in July 2006. (To Be Confirmed)
§ Ali Shahrukh Pracha, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Pakistan
§ Mette Jørgensen, Århus Universitet, Denmark
§ Lone Riisgaard, Danish Institute of International Studies, Denmark
§ Peter Lund Thomsen, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
§ Mariene Ferguson, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
§ Rasmus Juhl Pedersen, Save the Children, Denmark.
§ Helle Johansen, Public Private Partnership Program, Danida
§ Soeren Petersen, UNDP Nordic Office.

5. Publication Strategy
A two-pronged publication strategy will be pursued. In order to ensure the widest possible distribution of the papers at the conference within the United Nations system, the best papers will be published as UNRISD working papers and made available to the public via the UNRISD website. Their publication will be timed so that it coincides with CSD 15 in 2007. It is also envisaged that the papers presented will be part of a special issue of an international journal such as the Journal of Business Ethics or the European Journal of Development Research.