Business Sector Perspectives on Partnership

The situation is more complex with ‘partnerships’, as the word is used repeatedly to describe inter-organisational relationships that have ‘little, if any, of the characteristics that define partnerships’ (Covey, 2000:2). The many ways that ‘partnerships’ has been interpreted by diverse users makes it a ‘something nothing’ word, using the expression of Malhotra (cited in Fowler, 2000).

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Partnership is generally used to describe inter-organisational relationships based upon contracts, grants, or other forms of joint venture, and encompassing principles such as common vision and commitment, mutual trust, complementarity, flexibility, and joint learning (Covey 2000). Fowler notes the existence of trust, collaboration and a long-term voluntaristic attitude in particular distinguishing partnership from contracting in inter-organisational relationships (Fowler, 1998).

Essentially, partnership can be defined by shared knowledge, joint leveraging of resources, the multiplying effect of joint effort, or the ability to influence the policy and behaviour of other agents/actors involved in a given framework. Often the term is used to imply empowerment, capacity building and sustainability, efficacy and efficiency not only between partners, but emerging from the process itself. It appears that from the development perspective, partnerships and alliances, although originating from different backgrounds, are two terms intermittently used to complement each other.

In the following sections we will try to highlight different perspectives of actors involved in all kinds of partnerships and summarize common characteristics of relationships called ‘partnership’. The term ‘partnerships’, originates from the business sector, where relations are based on contract and for profit, and each partner has joint control over and shares the benefits (Carmen, 1999), but also the expenses and losses of common business.

The actors, collectively composing such a business association are called partners.(see Box 2). The reasons for partnering among private firms may vary (see Figure 1), but normally these are driven by the profit maximization incentive. However, the influence of ideas such as social corporate responsibility has led to an increase in the number of business partnerships addressing the development impact of transnational corporations (TNCs) on local conditions in areas they operate. As a result, the business sector is now recognising a need to foster partnerships with local authorities and NGOs:

“Multinational Corporations are becoming more and more powerful and must therefore be more and more responsible… Our objective is to run profitable business, but we know for sure that sustainable profitability depends on our capacity to deliver services that are fully adapted to local conditions. It also depends on our capacity to work with local partners; both public authorities and NGOs” (Jane-Marie Messier, Chairman and CEO, Vivendi Universal, www. bpdweb. org) At the same time the major development agencies have come to rely on the private sector’s contribution to the larger developmental framework.

As the United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan expressed in his inaugural speech while setting up the new millennium development goals (2000, www. bdpweb. org). “In today’s world, the private sector is the dominant engine of growth – the principal creator of value and managerial resources. If the private sector does not deliver economic growth and economic opportunity – equitable and sustainable – around the world, then peace will remain fragile and social justice a distant dream. […]

That is why I call today for a new partnership amongst governments, the private sector and the international community. ” Private-public partnership increases both the effectiveness (problem-solving capacity) and the legitimacy of international governance in terms of democratic participation and accountability (see Figure 2). Thus partnership, seen from a state perspective, may be taken as a process of institutional decentralisation, with government no longer having a monopoly over engagement in developmental activity.

From being principle actors and the engine of development in 1970s, the governments of developing countries became almost an obstacle to development in 1980 as they were seen to be unsuccessful in putting forward necessary policies supporting market economies and growth. Moreover, they were failing to deliver basic public services such as health and education to their population. This affected donor behaviour leading to a more intense relationship with NGOs, prioritising their role over that of the states during 1980s and 1990s.

The instrumental framework for this transition was ‘structural adjustment programs’ with their focus on state decentralisation and the privatisation of public services. By the mid 1990s, however, a rationalising of the role of the state in the developmental arena occurred, placing a new emphasis on institutional reform, transparency and good governance by involving other civil society actors in policy formulation and implementation (Chambers, 1997; Smillie, 1995; Hulme ; Edwards 1997).

As a result, public-private partnerships (PPP) came to shape relationships between multiple stakeholders involved in service delivery. Heavily influenced by participation theory, the aim of such partnerships is to provide low-cost or pro-poor services in a manner that engages stakeholders and encourages sustainability. Civil society organisations (CSOs) often contribute to PPPs in the form of North-South or NGO-CBO partnerships, which promote the local community’s participation in the project along with private and local government actors.

PPPs can also entail NGOs as service-providers, funded by local government and utilising their experience of participatory theory to engage local communities and enhance the sustainability of the project. They may also represent co-operation between local government and private service-providers with community-based organisations representing consumers (Plummer, 2002).