A whole day on ‘Making PPPs work’

On 1 December, we as PPPLab organised a whole day on ‘Making PPPs work’ at the New World Campus in The Hague. Participants from the private sector, knowledge institutions, public sector including the Dutch government and non-profit organisations spent the day exchanging experiences and discussing four main themes. These came from PPPLab research and insights combined with experiences shared by a number of companies and organisations working in and with public-private partnerships.

Keynotes of the day

Tanja Gonggrijp from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs –  voicing a public P perspective and William Van Niekerk (Alliander, Top sector Water) presenting insights from the private P compared reasons for and limitations of PPPs. Ms Gonggrijp sees three developments tanjashaping private sector engagement in development cooperation and the need for partnership: 1) global agreement on the SDGs 2) a shift from single issues to system transformation and 3) the importance of collective value addition. To tackle global issues and strive for inclusive development, Ms Gonggrijp said we have to go beyond the responsibility of single actors and single sectors. Local    government engagement is essential if systemic change is to take place. PPPs have a role, but only after asking the question whether a partnership can reach more impact, faster, at larger scale and more sustainable? Ms Gonggrijp pointed to the Netherlands as frontrunners in supporting PPPs for inclusive development, this needs faster learning and greater innovation.  She welcomed all suggestions around two questions: How can we trigger more innovation through PPPs? And can we better reach the bottom of the pyramid with our PPPs?

Mr van Niekerk spoke about his belief that PPPs are about creativity, to make the impossible possible by bringing together the needs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders. This should be the main criterion when assessing the need for a PPP or not. When williamestablished, they are then successful when they have agreed clear time frames on common goals that push collective action and progress. According to Mr van Niekerk if you agree on the timeline, you know what to work towards and this leads to creativity and sharp organisation. Even though the Dutch excel in working in PPPs, the Dutch government has had to learn much about who is given the responsibility of large projects. Key point: make sure that those who are given responsibility have the capability to deliver on that. His wish-list for companies to join PPPs in developing countries include:

  • Political stability
  • A continuous pipeline of bankable projects;
  • Transparent and efficient procurement;
  • Enforceability of contracts;
  • Equitable sharing of risks with the public sector; and
  • Certainty of the envisaged future cash flows

Perhaps the most important P, those, was his final personal favourite:  the P for pleasure in working in PPPs

Workshop sessions on PPPs

The day had six workshops led by professionals involved with PPPs  and PPPLab colleagues, the day program can still be found here.

Some key points from the parallel sessions:

  • Working with Producer P: Although producers play a central role in almost all FDOV PPPs, they are often not part of the partnership. One main conclusion of the session is that producers need to be engaged from the start in order to build long-term, sustainable partnerships; NGOs and knowledge institutes could play a key role in this by researching the producer’s needs before the start of a project and by representing the producers in PPPs.
  • Scaling & System change: the main point was that the more successful scaling cases do not just scale one particular technology, but rather a set of arrangements, consisting of elements such as awareness raising, financial arrangements, value chain work, professional knowledge, business models, etc. Moreover, two types of scaling stages were distinguished which provide more insight in one’s scaling strategy. First, the stages of scaling the technology/solution itself (blueprint/validate/prepare/scale), and secondly, the stages of wider sector transformation (inception/first movers/critical mass/institutionalization). Especially this last topic raised many questions regarding the position of the participants’ own projects, but also that of instruments such as FDOV and FDW. The discussion around Scaling & System Change just started rather than finished during this session.
  • Working with in-country partners: In this session the discussion was central around the issues around multi-culture partnerships (and the accompanying differences in communication styles), trust, donor-driven projects/ donor dependency, working with public sector, confusion between unwillingness versus being incapable etc. all came to the table. “Opting out” was an interesting avenue for “forcing” change that sparked some discussions/ questions.
  • Working with the Public P: understanding challenges and risks of public partner engagement is key, not only when designing the partnership but on a continuous basis. Experience and leadership are indispensable to respond flexibly to contextual challenges affecting Public P engagement. In addition, a repertoire of practices and lessons learned can help partners making a strategic, context-specific choice; why, on what, with whom and how to work with public partners. A more elaborate blog about the session on ‘Working effectively with the public P’ can be read here.
  • Financing PPPs: First of all, you need to be able to articulate your own PPP value proposition in terms that the funders understand. For example: What are the risks of the PPP? Which development stage is the PPP in? What are the growth opportunities? Secondly, you need to understand the financing options well. Which investor’s terms suit your needs at this stage, and which will be more suitable later on? Which funder can provide something in addition to money? In this session participants received feedback on the financing strategy for their own PPP. A critical question in this session was: should we talk about “PPPs for Financing” or “Financing PPPs”?session
  • Partnering processes: There was a shared impression that effective PPPs are also those that run smoothly, but that it’s hard to know where to focus partnership building efforts. Participants were very positive about the three tools presented as useful ways of creating a structured conversation within a partnership about what’s going well and what needs attention. The sense was that many PPPs can take the first steps in reflecting on internal partnering, but that neutral external support can quickly be necessary to take the conversation to sensitive topics and work on real improvements.

During the day, colleagues from RVO working with PPPs were present to answer questions. Peter Spierenburg gave an update on the latest FDW call and director of RVO, Robert Dijksterhuis closed the day with a personal take on the history of Overseas Development Assistance that has led to the emergence of PPPs in development cooperation. Where ODA in the 70’s and 80’s was a government to government activity, it expanded to include civil society, then knowledge institutes, businesses and most recently financial institutes to tackle every more complex problems. For the future Mr Dijksterhuis thinks PPPs are essential for the big-picture system change issues, and should focus on that. Simpler issues can work with simpler ways of collaborating. Critically we have to be aware that many people, citizens, feel left behind. Those involved in PPPs must keep in mind who they are doing it for. And that means that government should be remain a lead partner, because government should listen to the public opinion. If they don’t, and the public opinion says that it is ‘about us but without us’, citizens will vote for change.