- Paul Carttar Founding Director, US Social Innovation Fund
- Leong Cheung Executive Director, Charities and Community, The Hong Kong Jockey Club
- Peter Yates Chairman, Shared Value Project
- Kriss Deiglmeier CEO, Tides Foundation
Philanthropic foundations have long engaged in public-private partnerships (PPPs). These aim to both provide a neutral environment and a win-win-win opportunity for governments to collaborate with the private sector, NGOs and individuals to create social impact in ways otherwise not possible. These oftentimes also enable the scaling of solutions and impacts.
However, talks about the merits of PPP do not necessarily imply this will always work or is necessary. It is about bringing in the efficiency of business models to bear on social problems, working in or alongside the community it seeks to benefit within an enabling policy context or government support.
Ms. Deiglmeier highlighted three challenges that hinder PPPs. First is divergent institutional logics across private, civil society, and public sectors. Second is the different communication languages focusing on profit, impact, and compliance, respectively, across the three sectors. Third, is the divergent time horizons of expected outcomes across the sectors. And fourth, is the power imbalance between those deploying the funds and those working on the ground.
For PPPs to work, these challenges can be overcome via 1) identifying a set of shared goals; 2) aligning metrics and seeking to have a common language across sectors; 3) understanding and working around the other sector’s time horizon for success or impacts; 4) respecting the contexts, incentives, and challenges of the other sector/partners; and 5) mindful there will always be power imbalances even as nobody wants to talk about it.
Mr. Yates built on the PPP via the shared value framing. In this perspective, the business case is there if a social problem can be solved profitably and can be scaled sustainably. Having this as a starting point focuses the PPP as a business model first, rather than get the funding first. This increases the chances of success and sustainability.
Mr. Carttar highlighted that key success factors: 1) every party is legitimately both committed to the collective goal, but also a compelling benefit to their own goals; and 2) partners have to have clear and transparency of roles and enforcement mechanisms.
There were three additional considerations highlighted: first, is to be clear where one’s value-add or strength is relative to other partners in a PPP. This was reiterated by Mr. Cheung when he put into perspective about the “small” funding amount of the Trust in relation to government subvention, but large relative to other philanthropic funding sources. Second, is the need for “cross-dressing leaders” – leaders who have experience in or worked with other sectors to have both the empathy for and understanding about the other sector’s needs, mindsets and processes. And third, PPP is hard work and need to be nurtured regularly since the sectors in partnership have by design been working within their respective institutional or sectoral silos.