Chris Jurgens is Director of Global Programs for Accenture Development Partnerships, a group within Accenture, the global consultancy, whose mission is to channel the company’s skills and capabilities to have an impact on solving global development challenges.  Operating as a not-for-profit corporate social enterprise, Accenture Development Partnerships provides management and technology consulting services to development sector organizations on a reduced cost basis.

As part of USAID’s 50th Anniversary, the Agency is celebrating Public-Private Partnership Week October 17-21, 2011 to highlight the mutual benefit that development and business have in establishing public-private partnerships (PPP) and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Global Development Alliance (GDA) program.

As USAID celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Global Development Alliances program, it is an opportune time not only to reflect on the successes and learnings of the past decade with respect to cross-sectoral partnerships for global development, but also to look forward and think about the appropriate role of partnerships in the decade ahead.

As an organization that works at the intersection of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, we at Accenture Development Partnerships are bullish on the potential for cross-sectoral partnerships to become a more pervasive and impactful instrument for achieving development outcomes in the years ahead.  In our recent point of view on The Convergence Economy, we set out a future vision for development which foresees not only a blurring of the boundaries between the sectors, but a fundamental shift in traditional conceptions of ‘who does what’ when it comes to delivering development impact.

In this future vision, the role of business would be far more impactful than it is today, with the private sector embracing a broader definition of value.  And in this new paradigm, we’d see an increasing number of hybrid business models and hybrid funding models which align commercial interest with development impact.  These hybrid structures and partnership models, when properly implemented, can enable greater innovation in how we tackle development challenges; improve efficiency and better value for every development dollar spent; and enable greater scalability and sustainability.

We are already seeing the rapid growth of such hybrid structures.  Corporations such as BASF are launching new hybrid business ventures focused on targeting specific products and technologies to reach the base of the pyramid.  We are seeing the growth and scale up of social enterprises – such as WaterHealth International – whose entire business model is premised on partnering in order to achieving triple-bottom line results.

But partnerships and hybrid models do not always realize this potential.  And as we look ahead, I believe we need to ‘raise the bar’ on how we think about partnerships and measure their results.  In the next decade, we need to focus less on quantity and more on quality.  We need to understand what makes a partnership “high performance” in achieving development outcomes, and then focus our efforts on taking those high-quality partnerships to scale.

I’d posit three critical questions that we as a community of partnership practitioners need to address in the next decade in order to move toward a vision of “high performance” partnerships, and to effectively define the role of partnerships in advancing solutions to development challenges.

Impact: How do we effectively measure the impact of partnerships?

To date, the partnerships community has done a relatively good job on gathering data on “inputs” to partnerships themselves (dollars spent, partners engaged), but we’ve been less successful or systematic in gathering data on the outcomes that partnerships have delivered.   We need to move from measuring “dollars leveraged” to “outcomes delivered” – and to build a base of data which can help us identify in which instances the use of partnerships makes more sense compared to alternative approaches.

Sustainability: In what contexts are partnerships – particularly those involving the private sector – truly sustainable?

Evidence to date has shown that partnerships involving the private sector are stronger and more sustainable when they have a robust business case for the companies involved and are aligned to core business competencies.  But many partnerships – perhaps the vast majority – stay ‘pilots’ and fail to get to scale because the business case underpinning them is weak.  We need to understand in which specific contexts the alignment of business interest and development need is strong enough to ensure a minimum level of sustainability, and thus scalability.

Governance: How do we effectively govern partnerships, particularly more ambitious and complex collaborations?

We aspire towards a vision of partnerships in which a diverse ecosystem of stakeholders comes together to solve a “big” challenge.  And indeed, such multi-stakeholder alliances are often key to achieving systemic rather than siloed solutions.  But governance and decision making in such contexts is notoriously difficult.  The next generation of partnership builders needs to draw on the lessons learned of the past decade – learning from the failures as well as the successes – to identify models of multi-stakeholder governance which are robust enough to drive decisions but flexible enough to accommodate diverse agendas.

These questions do not have simple answers, but we have the foundations we need to begin to answer them and to work together to create the next generation of “high performance” partnerships.

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