Artemisinin Factory / Nathan Laurell via Flickr ; CC BY-NC 2.0

Suppose you are working in a public-private partnership (PPP) in Kenya. To promote food security, you need access to land and your innovative food security solution locally certified. Elections just took place. You had an engaged government partner, but now you are confronted with politics: your partner lost the election. How do you handle this challenge?

Business nowadays plays a key role in tackling complex issues such as food insecurity and water and sanitation. But for the private sector, NGOs and knowledge organisations to tackle these issues in a sustainable manner and achieve inclusive growth, governments need to be on board. This can prove difficult, as politics is an unpredictable factor.

All partnerships in Kenya have to do business with county governors. Even though the central government did not change as a result of the recent elections, more than half of Kenya’s counties elected new governors. For partnerships, this means re-engaging with the new governors in order not to lose the trust and support of the counties.

This is not the only challenge involved in working with governments. Partnerships are also confronted with limited capacity and accountability among government officials. How can partnerships with governments be maintained in the face of such challenges? How have partnerships coped with the challenges at hand, while at the same time building on opportunities to work with the government at central and local levels?

On field trips to Kenya and Ghana, experts from the PPPLab found a common feature among successful PPPs: they are well aware of the benefits for the government of entering into a partnership. To boost collaboration, the interests and motivations of all parties need to be integrated into the partnership design, from the beginning or at a later stage. In addition, successful partnerships invest in local networks, looking beyond their formal counterparts at the level of the government. How do they do this and what can we learn from these PPPs?

Resilience to political change

Most PPPs do not want to engage in politics, but are well aware of the political economy around the institutions they engage with and ‘who is who’ behind the scenes, our exploratory study found. Rather than wait for unpredictable developments to unfold, successful PPPs spread their risks by maintaining multiple entry points, within government and more broadly. For example, the Integrated Water  & Agricultural Development (IWAD) company, created under the Dutch-Ghanaian company Wienco, engaged with informal, traditional leaders in North Ghana and accommodated their interest in obtaining access to their land. In Kenya, the international NGO Solidaridad decided to go local through its regional office, which is skilled at navigating the local context.

Engaging with other levels of government can prove useful in dealing with the sheer complexity of institutions. The Dutch company Agrico took the collaboration with the Kenyan government to a much higher level when certification of its potatoes was lagging. At a crucial point in time, the Dutch Secretary of Economic Affairs paid a visit to Kenya at the ministerial level and the certification process was expedited.

Early buy-in ensures commitment

Governments are held accountable for representing the interests of the public. They develop procedures to do so, which can make them inflexible and risk averse. In partnerships, governments may be concerned about a loss of control when they engage with the private sector. A Kenyan official noted that: “International companies are difficult for us to trust, because we do not know them or their motivation for doing business here”.

One way of mitigating this risk is to involve the government in the partnership early in order to ensure real commitment and trust. The SmarterWASH project in Ghana, led by IRC, did this by involving the government from the very beginning. Having the government play a central role is deemed crucial within the water and sanitation sector.

In Kenya, the WASTE Foundation was introduced to regional politicians by its local partner AMREF. This helped their partnership to gain political momentum and obtain a local licence to operate. Politicians were keen to partner with the foundation as it helped strengthen their political mandate. The partnership benefited from their sense of responsibility for the project, for as long as they were in office.

Investing in partnering capacity

One of the main challenges of partnering with governments is lack of capacity. If capacity is lacking at the financial or technical level, traditional capacity building can help. But partnering with business requires another type of government capacity. To foster this, in North Ghana, IWAD took a different route. As a lead partner, the company was introduced to the brand new government agency Savannah Accelerated Development Authority (SADA). Responsibilities were shared by the partners: SADA took on a co-financing and co-decision role and is now keen to take more responsibility in further partnerships. The CEO commented that: “We are now able to negotiate better partnerships and deals with the private sector”.

SADA’s CEO, Charles Abugre from the Government of Ghana will do a masterclass at the PPPLab conference on 30 November in the Netherlands.
This expert contribution was published previously on the website of The Broker.
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