Public-Private Initiatives for International
Johan A. van Dijk, Platform International Education PIE, www.pieonline.nl
The discussion about development cooperation in the Netherlands under the Rutte
government has tilted towards ‘international cooperation for economic development’. For the
higher education and training institutes, this largely means cooperation with Southern
partners on core activities of research, education, valorization and other ways of societal
engagement. The instruments available for these tasks include capacity development and
fellowship programmes, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and administered by the
For a new type of capacity development, the ministry calls for pilot projects, or ‘Joint Initiatives’, incorporating elements of so-called ‘Type C projects’ as presented earlier in the Kennisbrief
of Minister Knapen. Joint initiatives will focus on longer term and more structural cooperation in these core areas of Dutch higher education. Similar innovations will also be sought for the fellowship programme which aims at training of staff from the organizations in the Global South.
In these new configurations for international cooperation, collaboration between the public and private sector will be strongly encouraged. The question remains how to align these parties since they usually differ in their objectives for international cooperation and expectations about the outcomes from it.
On 2-3 July 2012, an international conference commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be organised by Nuffic, with contributions from the Platform International Education (PIE). The conference will explore the programme outline for international cooperation against this background of changing policy priorities. One of the central issues is the role of public and private partnership. In the context of this conference, PIE has been requested to provide a comment.
Public Private Partnerships
The new framework for international cooperation includes programmes that (i) are implemented in selected countries; (ii) address themes linked to the Global Challenges and affecting the poorest countries, and where there is a comparative advantage in knowledge,
skills and experience for effective Dutch assistance; (iii) involve the private sector to the best possible extent. Such approach requires new types of knowledge, new skills to apply knowledge in practice, and finally also new systems to govern this body of knowledge and skills so that capacities are enhanced.
Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for international cooperation almost exclusively refer to public and private groups in the North, who are collaborating to provide knowledge and other services to a partner in the South. The private sector in the South is less often involved although it may make important contributions to development. Usually, the private sector in North and South will tap a public knowledge pool and will only add own R&D investments to cover blank fields for meeting desired levels of productivity. This will generate economic growth, but will not necessarily result in a strengthening of individual and institutional capacities for sustained development. Some argue that we should engage with a third party ‘civil society’ to address the main forces involved here, being economic dynamism, sustainability and social responsibility (Knorringa, 2010). How the public and private sector could do better in this respect is still subject of debate: ‘What are factors encouraging the private sector to act in ways that are relevant for sustainable development in the Global South?
We will start with some observations and continue with suggestions concerning the design of programmes for cooperation, based on PPPs.
• The agenda on Global Challenges is predominantly formulated and supported by
Northern countries. Frameworks for cooperation involving the interests of the latter have become more acceptable, but a too dominant Northern agenda will negatively affect public and private support in the South and ultimately jeopardize the local impact.
• Recent studies noted that capacity development in the past has taken insufficient
consideration of the political-economy in a country or region during the design stage (IOB 2011). The importance of so doing will only become higher with the additional involvement of the private and other sectors.
• The public and private sectors have different rationales for operation. The first wants
to meet longer-term institutional objectives; the second to maximize shorter-term returns on investments, and to do so at minimal risk. Studies in the Netherlands indicate that proximity is a key to success: culture in the public and private sector differs substantially and representatives need to meet on a regular basis to remain successful (Brainport 2012). These are all reasons why PPPs should be build up gradually and avoid a too rapid implementation from initially ‘zero’ to ‘full’ involvement of the private sector. It also makes a model involving the private sector in the South a more complex endeavour.
• A comprehensive Dutch study ‘Crossing Border: When Science meets Industry’
(Cantion et al.
2005) identifies other bottlenecks for effective PPPs. Interestingly, those in the public (viz.
academic) sector find their roots in the sector’s own and well-
established culture: publications acting as the main driver for work; a lack of entrepreneurship; and the Dutch system for research funding (three ‘money streams’ for basic, competitive and contract research) leaving out structural private sector and industrial funding. This culture is less well developed in the Global South. But would this result in better PPP opportunities? Is the public knowledge pool in the South of sufficient quality and quantity to encourage local private sector investment, innovation and valorization?
Given the first two points above, involvement of civil society organizations is likely to strengthen these types of international cooperation. It will enhance local support and also facilitate discussion, building bridges, and any other required political-economic navigation among the stakeholders. Civil society then acts as a natural meeting ground, taking up responsibilities and tasks that otherwise remain unfulfilled by private or public players. The third point is a plea for a relatively open architecture in the Joint Initiatives. Regional variation is important and a new programme should not become a straightjacket for meeting technical programme requirements. The importance of proximity deserves attention, especially where the private sector in the South is to be involved. The fourth point would favour collaboration with only the top-ranking public higher education and training institutes in the South. Otherwise, private sectors in the North and South will quickly lose their interest. Building new types of knowledge, skills and systems is a long term process, especially when government and civil society need to create conditions for the private sector to invest, innovate and valorize. Programmes and projects of short duration will not suffice in this complex arrangement of stakeholders.
Other experiences with PPPs have been collected by programmes of Agentschap NL
(Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative, IDH (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), among others.
• Establish and maintain a common language: academic parlance easily becomes too
specific to be of interest and use in the private sector.
• There are uncertainties for the private sector when they want to become involved in
international cooperation, e.g. related to new areas required for R&D; implications for personnel affairs and policies, for product development, necessary adjustments in business models. The public sector can contribute by filling this information gap.
• The success rate of PPPs may depend on small factors, including the position of the
counterparts in their respective organisations. A documented example taken from corporate hierarchies mentions the short-term interest of financial people on the one hand, versus the long-term interest of strategic advisors on the other. Usually, a CSR portfolio-holder is involved in these discussion about partnerships and who often holds a lower hierarchical position.
• Tendering is not always an appropriate instrument to establish PPPs since there is a
risk that the problem formulation will remain too general for raising the private and public interest. Better would be a tailor-made function by way of a broker who will
design cooperation programmes. Such a design, accordingly, is more based on social factors than on financial or legal instruments. Agenschap NL
gained experience with this since 2004 through a number of their programmes.
• Avoid small initiatives: economies of scale are important to make a difference when it
• Several studies made by the Agenschap NL
that personnel departments in the
private sector are in need of staff who are familiar with value chain approaches (system thinking for product development and impact), and who are endowed with the necessary sensibilities and skills for successful international operation and networking.
Higher education and training institutes in the Netherlands are more likely to engage in international cooperation when this will also strengthen their core activities in research, education and valorization.
The main driver for the Dutch private sector in the same cooperation will be opportunities to open new markets for development-relevant products and services.
The objective of the ‘Joint Initiatives’ programme, finally, is to create a sustained environment in the South for enhancing knowledge, capacities and skills among selected key institutions for development, and to do so for the benefit of partners in the South as well as in the North.
This is a mission that cannot be lead by Dutch higher education and training institutes. The complexities involved simply are too large, as was described above. However, the following could be a feasible three-step scenario for a first pilot exploration under the Joint Initiatives programme, implemented on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
• In consultation with Southern stakeholders, Dutch and possibly Southern private
sectors will formulate areas where the Dutch institutes can contribute with research, education and valorization to the successful delivery of products and services by this same private sector. Consider involvement of civic parties when a private sector in the South is involved.
• These products and services must be relevant for capacity development in the South
in the themes and sectors that have been formulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
• The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will finance the provision by the Dutch higher
education and training institutes of the knowledge services that are demanded by the private sector.
Top Economy, Smart Society. Kenniswerkersregeling
Crossing Border: When Science meets Industry’. The Hague: Centraal Plan Bureau Rapport
Facilitating Resourcefulness. Evaluation of Dutch support to capacity development. The Hague: IOB evaluation.
A Balancing Act: Private Actors in Development Processes. Inaugural Lecture. The Hague: EUR, ISS.
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