Report knowledge seminar ‘The Business of Food & Water PPPs’, 12 June 2015

Succesful first knowledge seminar of PPPLab on exploring the role of business in PPPs

On June 12th the PPPLab organized its first public Knowledge Seminar. For this we invited 35 representatives actively involved in public-private partnerships in some way, in different roles, for open sharing with peers on the central topics, drawing on content input from PPPLab research.

Together we looked at ‘the business in PPPs’ from three angles:

  1. Portfolio scan FDW and FDOV: What do food and water PPPs really target, seen through their ‘change pathways’? (link to presentation: Presentation B3 Study, and to: Explorations 01 about the FDW portfolio)
  2. Business cases in PPPs: risk allocation and business model innovation (link to presentation: Presentation B4 Study)
  3. PPPs and funding instruments: one means to a development end (link to presentation: Presentation B2 Study)

Each topic drew on research done or assigned by the PPPLab over the past six months. The research has looked at the partnerships funded in the first calls of the FDW and FDOV facilities, and is an attempt to understand the larger patterns across both portfolios.

This report reflects suggestions made to sharpen the PPPLab’s next Knowledge Agenda. It also highlights what we take away for future Knowledge Seminars, which clearly fulfil a need for well-informed peer exchange. General recommendations were discussed with the Advisory Group later that day.

The following main topics were addressed by the participants in response to the presentations and during table discussions:

  • Result measurement, with recurrent remarks about the need to monitor the performance of partnerships themselves; about evaluating the systemic change that partnerships do or do not achieve; and monitoring the pro-poor impact of PPPs.
  • Role of different partners within the PPPs, including questioning the contribution of the private sector to true innovation; barriers for private sector parties who do want to engage but cannot participate or do not want to partner under the conditions of the instrument; and about how to draw in more SMEs, both Dutch and national.
  • Sustainability. The exchange here focused on the sustainability of the outcomes of a PPP versus the continuity of the partnership itself and exit strategies to ensure continuity of outcomes.

The PPPLab will incorporate a number of remarks about the presentations in final publications. Further effort is needed to clarify concepts and ideas, and use them in a coherent manner across all publications. The work done so far understandably starts with proposals and other written material. All agreed that future work must draw on the reality of partnerships as they have evolved on the ground. There was also a general recommendation to look not only at current PPPs but also at proposals that were approved but not awarded (due to limited finances), rejected and also withdrawn proposals. The resulting overview could give greater insight in partnership objectives, various constitutions of partnerships, barriers for private sector, etc.

There was a caution regarding the business model work on PPPs: is the focus now too much on private sector performance at the expense of capturing benefits for public goods? Greater understanding of risk perception and allocation is welcomed, during and after completion of the contract. A final generic comment was regarding the need to understand how locally embedded the partnerships are, and whether they boost local entrepreneurship in developing countries. The Dutch private sector is still (too) much oriented on export of goods and services rather than establishing local businesses with local partners that offer new markets for their services and products.

In reflection on the Knowledge Agenda there was genuine interest in seeing more of the ‘lab’ element to the way the PPPLab works. Closer collaboration with the partnerships is essential in that, as well as a prominent place for joint learning and exchange. The interesting work in trying to understand the business cases, financing, etc. can lead to greater direct engagement with the private sector. Finally, there was a call to consider the results monitoring of and by partnerships, as designing an M&E system is new to many.

This Knowledge Seminar is the first in a chain of events organized by the PPPLab. As such, this seminar will serve as a starting point for the next event. Concerning the organization of future seminars and other events, we have learned that it is useful for all participants to formulate deliverables of these sessions. Moreover, a number of participants indicated that they would benefit from practical discussions with peers to share challenges which happen within their PPPs on the ground. Therefore the PPPLab intends to regularly organize meetings where PPP practitioners have the opportunity to exchange experiences.

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