Real Leaders

5 Tips for Building a Successful Public-private Partnership for Impact

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Everywhere you look these days, companies, governments, and communities are talking about ‘better business,’ what it means, who it affects, and why it’s relevant. One example that shows this ethos in action is TRANSFORM — a unique joint initiative between Unilever, the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and EY.

The initiative supports social entrepreneurs in South Asia and Africa to improve the lives of low-income households. Driven by the UN SDGs, in particular no.17, “partnerships for the goals,” it follows the mantra that no other UN SDG is possible without it – which is why it is so key for sustainable progression. Here are our five major learnings for building a successful public-private partnership.

1.    The Holy Trinity: 3 core organizations are the perfect balance

These core organizations should be responsible for the overriding vision and direction of the partnership and the relationships with suppliers, enterprises, and stakeholders. A leaner central body will strengthen the management of potentially conflicting processes, rules, and requirements all partnerships undoubtedly face.

2.    Start small

A committed group of kick-starters allows the core organizations to form trusted relationships, stress-test, and empower the initiative. Avoid getting overexcited about the PR – the successes built from a tight-knit foundation will speak for themselves. 

3.    Define a shared purpose

Ask yourself, where do the common values between the core organizations lie? How do you ensure this forms the foundation for a specific partnership goal? Remember, the optimal point you’re trying to hit is a vision with enough specificity that the whole team is clear and aligned while allowing enough room to explore different avenues and respond to crises.

4.    The Compatibility Test

Testing your area of collaboration helps build a pipeline by reviewing real projects and finding out where to set your boundaries. This is where reality starts to sink in, and the funding prospects are front and center of the conversation. Remember, if you encounter difficulties with the projects, you can always return to the mapping stage and redefine the shared values.

5.    Ground rules: balancing everyone’s needs

Make sure you prioritize the necessary requirements for each organization. Creating contractual templates means you’ll be best placed to deal with even the most unprecedented of events – for TRANSFORM, this meant a well-established blueprint for a rapid Covid-19 response. The model built on the collaboration’s firm relationships and frameworks meant that Unilever and the FCDO could launch the Hygiene & Behavior Change Coalition (HBCC), which provided funding, technical assistance, and hygiene products to over 20 NGOs in 2020.

TRANSFORM has shown that building a successful public-private partnership takes time, commitment, and resilience. The same is true of reaching the SDGs; no one organization can do it alone. We wanted to put the needs of society at the heart of our mission — and in the hands of some of the most exciting social entrepreneurs. We have shown that combining market-based ingenuity with the unique capabilities of business and government can offer a pathway to accelerated progress. If that’s not better business, I’m not sure what is.

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