Exploring Innovations in Public Private Partnerships – by David J. Maurrasse

Public Private Partnerships

photo credit: jonny goldstein via photopin cc

Collaboration is critical to surviving and thriving in the twenty first century.  Major trends in recent years have challenged us to think differently about how we address social and economic challenges as well as innovate for the future.  While the established boundaries of fields, industries, and sectors remain important, how we cross those boundaries has become an essential contemporary consideration in itself.

For instance, as the world grapples to determine the viable job markets of the future to support the livelihoods of billions, investments in industries well positioned for growth are essential.  However, it is also important to identify who has a stake in these industries, and develop partnerships across those stakeholders to shape how jobs are created and filled.  Sources of training should be linked to the sources of potential employment.  And policy making bodies should be poised to encourage coordination between employers and trainers/educators.  Ideally, public policy, private industry, institutions of training and education, supportive private capital, and end users in civil society would all work together.  Coordination across sectors will be increasingly required to shape our future.

In his recent State of the Union address, United States President Barack Obama illustrated the significance of cross sector partnerships to the future of job growth.  He praised an initiative, Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), which is a public high school in New York City that emerged from a partnership between IBM, the City University of New York, and the New York City Department of Education.  Through this effort, students receive intensive preparation for both higher education and careers with an emphasis on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), which is thought to be crucial training for the jobs for the future.  With IBM’s inclusion, this program is designed with awareness of employer needs.  Students gain access to internships IBM and other companies as a part of their education.

It appears awareness of the need to span traditional boundaries to jointly solve problems is on the rise.  As indicated in Strategic Public Private Partnerships:  Innovation and Development, case examples of creative ways in which the public, private, and nongovernmental sectors are collaborating are proliferating.  Indeed, numerous factors are influencing this trend.  Shrinking public budgets are forcing new ways of thinking and resource sharing.  Conceptions of civic engagement and governance are encouraging more direct participation among private institutions and citizens in public affairs.  Complex social problems are simply requiring resources and expertise that transcend numerous sector and professional boundaries.

Municipal governments, for example, are creatively leveraging the resources within their localities beyond sectors in order to address critical needs from schooling to job creation to disaster recovery, and so on.  Certainly, matters such as the privatization of public goods and outsourcing have been emerging trends over recent decades.  However, the active development of ongoing partnerships that bring the sectors together in actual new governance structures is notable.

In 2000, the United Kingdom established Local Strategic Partnerships, which encouraged districts throughout England to build from their local assets, and combine the activities of local authorities, local businesses, universities, civic associations, and others.  These partnerships, across eighty eight local authorities, forged strategic plans to address the priority concerns facing their localities and explicitly sought to break down barriers between institutions.  These entities are reflective of the unique composition of their respective environments; they have been created in the context of their particular assets.

Wagner College

Wagner College
photo credit: parent5446 via photopin cc

Multi-stakeholder partnerships take on lives of their own.  And they can be led not only by municipalities, but by private and nongovernmental entities as well.  The Port Richmond Partnership on Staten Island in New York City, for example, was created by a local university, Wagner College.  This institution of higher education collaborates with local government, private philanthropy, medical institutions, corporations, local small businesses and numerous civic associations to address educational, health, and economic development needs in the most vulnerable neighborhood on Staten Island.

These entities take on varying structures – sometimes as organizations in themselves, and sometimes as loosely organized coalitions.  These forms of collaboration are crafting new methods of decision-making, which might bring corporations, government agencies, universities, medical institutions, and community organizations together in unprecedented activity around common interests.  These partnerships sometimes focus on the needs of defined geographical spaces, such as neighborhoods, municipalities, or regions.  However, they can also address particular issues (i.e. hunger) that transcend national and global boundaries.

Salud Mesoamerica 2015, for example, seeks to reduce health inequities across the entire region of Latin America.  Focusing on the most impoverished twenty percent of the population in Central America and southern Mexico, this partnership combines the resources and expertise of the Health Institution of the Carlos Slim Foundation, the Government of Spain, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank.  The initiative aims to meet Millennium Development Goals in certain health categories, such as maternal and child nutrition, immunization, reproductive health, malaria, and others.

While these multi-stakeholder partnerships demonstrate promise, as they forge common agendas among stakeholders that may not otherwise collaborate, they are complex.  Just as large bureaucratic organizations might contain substantial layers of complexity, partnerships representing multiple sectors and institutions are not automatically harmonious.  These multi-stakeholder partnerships require considerable attention in their launching, formation, and sustainability.  These emerging forms of governance require customized attention and management assistance.  Marga Incorporated, a consulting firm, primarily based in New York City, has been advising the development and strengthening of multi-stakeholder partnerships.  This work helps shape what it will take in order to not only form collaborative initiatives, but increase their effectiveness.

Since some of today’s most significant challenges (i.e. poverty, climate change, health disparities, and literacy) are only likely to drastically change through resources and expertise beyond many boundaries, it is in the global community’s best interest to understand the ingredients of effective partnerships.  Strategic Public Private Partnerships: Innovation and Development was written with this increased understanding in mind.  It intends to illuminate the elements of effective partnerships as well as highlight their typical pitfalls.  The book is partly based on the experiences of participants in such partnerships; and it showcases numerous examples of collaborative initiatives around the world.  It demonstrates the innovation emerging across varied settings to catalyze the combined efforts of multiple parties to address the myriad multi-faceted challenge emblematic of today’s complex world.

Partnerships are no perfect panacea, nor are attempts to cross public and private boundaries.  Partnerships must avoid diminishing the unique role and significance of government and putting private sector needs over the public interest.  We should take partnerships for what they are – opportunities to leverage resources for societal gain.  The more we understand partnerships’ potential, the more society will be able to take advantage of their promise.

David J MaurrasseDavid Maurrasse is the Founder and President of Marga Incorporated, a consulting firm founded in 2000, providing strategic advisory services and research to philanthropic initiatives and community partnerships.  Marga coordinates, with the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center, the Anchor Institutions Task Force.  Dr. Maurrasse serves as the Director of this emerging association, which promotes the engagement of enduring institutions (e.g. universities and medical centers) in partnerships to address economic development, health disparities, educational access, and beyond.  Marga also coordinates the Race and Equity in Philanthropy Group (REPG), which convenes philanthropic institutions to address their policies and practices on racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Since 2000, Dr. Maurrasse has been affiliated with Columbia University.  At Columbia, he began at the School of International and Public Affairs as Assistant Professor, and last served as Adjunct Associate Professor.  He has also been affiliated with Columbia’s Earth Institute, conducting research on public/private/nongovernmental partnerships.  His periodic course, Cross Sector Partnerships, Philanthropy, and Community Building, has exposed Columbia graduate students to emerging trends in solving global social problems through collaboration.  From 1995 to 2000 Dr. Maurrasse was an Assistant Professor at Yale University, and a Senior Program Advisor at the Rockefeller Foundation from 1998 to 2000.

Strategic Public Private Partnerships book coverDr. Maurrasse has published several books; his latest—Strategic Public Private Partnerships: Innovation and Development (2013)—assesses the value and potential of cross sector partnerships around the world.  Maurrasse has served on numerous boards, two of which he has chaired. He is currently a Trustee at Bucknell University.  He is a member of the Global Urban Competitiveness Project, which convenes in various parts of the world to address strategies and trends to strengthen cities. Maurrasse has keynoted several conferences, addressing how to leverage institutional resources to meet pressing social needs.  He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and he holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

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