Experiences of Dutch PPPs in working with governments and public sectors

Blog by Marije Balt & Stella Pfisterer

Suppose you are lead partner of a food security PPP in Kenya. You need access to land and want your innovative food security solution to be locally certified. Respecting the rules and regulations is your principle, and you have engaged government at the proper levels. But in practice, you are faced with challenges you would have never envisioned. How to deal with that?

Since 2000, complex issues such as food insecurity as well as water and sanitation are increasingly being tackled by private actors. However for this to be done in a sustainable manner, the engagement of public actors such as governments is assumed to be crucial. PPPs seem to be a valuable tool for making optimal use of private and public actors’ key strengths to address complex issues.

Dutch food and water PPPs shared their experiences at the 6 April PPPCafé. This 3rd edition brought together around 25 practitioners from the public sector, NGOs and research institutions and consultants in The Hague who reflected together with experts from the PPPLab on how to engage effectively the Public P in PPPs.


Participants shared their insights at thematic tables (food, water, local public p and Dutch public p) by discussing the following key questions: What is the motivation to work with public actors in PPPs? Do you know their motivation to participate in a PPP? What are their roles and contributions? Which challenges do PPPs face when public actors are involved? What practices are developed to address these issues? Below a few examples of their experiences are listed.


A difference between the two sectors, food and water, emerged. In the water and sanitation sector, local public partners play a central role, for example in the SmarterWASH project of IRC Wash in Ghana. And within FDW, having a local public partner on board is a requirement for PPPs, whereas in FDOV this is optional.


Context matters. In countries as Rwanda and Ethiopia there is no way to run a PPP without the government fully on board, even in a steering role. However also in other contexts and across sectors it was felt that public partners are needed mainly for sustainability reasons, and scaling a project. This assumes that those public partners play their role properly during the project itself, for example providing extension services to farmers in the case of an FDOV project in Kenya.


Across the sectors food and water, similar challenges occur in working with governments and public sector. For providing these extension services, lead partner Solidaridad was confronted with a lack of capacity at the county level – another element for the PPP to address. Weak accountability was also mentioned by participants as well as external risks such as counterparts being replaced after elections or a debt crisis in Ghana, as a result of which the Ghana government could not meet its financial PPP commitments.


Dutch PPPs have innovative ways to deal with such challenges in working with the Public P allover the world. The ‘water table’ touched on the key role of the public partner in regulating privatisation in drinking water, but also discussed how its reliability can be an issue. Therefore water partnerships stand for early involvement and participation of the Public P throughout the project, invest in personal relationships, while tapping into the embassy network – crucial in case of problems.

The ‘food table’ came up with practices such as ‘going local’ that helped in case there was no framework to work with: it provided access and agreement to do the PPP activities. The ‘local public p table’ discussed the case of a coconut project in Vietnam which required the mayors’ facilitation and promotion. It linked creatively to the interest of mayors by providing stable employment for the villagers, thereby securing the Public P’s commitment.

The Dutch Public P

Another dimension of the Public P is not the local, but the Dutch Public P: the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its embassies as well as the Dutch enterprise agency. The ‘Dutch Public P table’ discussed that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs wears double hats: the one of the funder and the one of the partner. This can lead to a tension for public managers: Having co-responsibility for the PPP as a partner is fundamentally different from assessing and making financial decisions about the same PPP project. And when roles are not clearly articulated this may create challenges. However, some project partners framed this tension in an proactive way: it provides possibilities for new ways of collaboration with the Dutch Public P. The discussion touched upon other types of challenges related to the public-private cooperation with public donor involvement such as ‘cultural differences’ between donors and partners, and the time available to invest in relationship building versus the flexibility of the instrument (see also this PPPLab blog)

Continuation of research

The PPPLab continues to research the role of Public Ps in PPPs. We aim to develop a repertoire of strategies and practices on how to work with the Public P. In this sense, this PPPcafe brought forward a number of interesting insights on innovative ways to work with the local Public P and donors in PPPs. In addition to our in-depth exploration studies on Ghana and Kenya, we will soon publish an exploration brief on how food and water PPPs manage to work effectively with the Public P in Ghana and Kenya, which will include practices of FDW and FDOV projects.