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New Report on Trends in UN-Private Sector Partnerships since 2000


By: Wade Hoxtell, Domenica Preysing and Julia Steets, Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi)

Collaboration between the United Nations and the private sector has become ingrained in the way the United Nations and its Agencies, Funds and Programmes function; but it was not always this way. The report, authored by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) with support from the UN Global Compact Office, charts the evolution of UN-business engagement since 2000…

Direct cooperation between the private sector and the United Nations (UN) emerged as a significant phenomenon in the late 1990s in response to the complexity of global problems, the scarcity of resources and the failure of multilateral mechanisms to address these issues. While many initially regarded cooperation with the private sector skeptically, the launch of the United Nations Global Compact in 2000 signaled the beginning of a new phase in UN engagement with the private sector – one in which the private sector’s role and responsibility in helping achieve UN development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, has become politically accepted and operationally scalable.

As public institutions opened up toward working with business, the private sector became more willing to collaborate as well. This was mainly because it realized that helping address global issues together with the public sector could improve the corporate bottom line. These dynamics prepared the ground for a significant expansion in UN-private sector partnerships. To enable more effective cooperation, many UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes became more business friendly in their institutional set-ups and increased their capacity to deal with the private sector, share best practices and mitigate partnership risks. As a result, a broad range of collaborative relationships emerged, ranging from small, local partnership initiatives to massive global advocacy campaigns to jointly tackle a particular issue.

The ways UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes work with the private sector have evolved significantly and continue to develop. As knowledge on partnerships accumulates and the partners gain experience, two main developments have taken place. First, the UN has slowly become more realistic in its expectations regarding private sector contributions. Whereas the late 1990s and early 2000s saw an initial over-enthusiasm, the United Nations has realized that collaboration is not a silver bullet and that the financial contributions of the private sector are, and will remain, limited. As a result, the past decade has seen a more pragmatic stance regarding collaboration and more strategic planning from United Nations organizations regarding their partnerships. Second, UN-private sector partnerships have been maturing and the initial focus of “partnership for partnership’s sake” has slowly given way to greater emphasis on results and a concentration of partnerships in areas where there is considerable value in collaboration.

Overall, collaborations have therefore focused increasingly on the core business operations of companies. Social investment and philanthropic partnerships now seek to encourage input of core business expertise, products and services instead of just aiming to mobilize cash contributions. This has been accompanied and intensified by a trend to focus collaborations on efforts to support the set-up and expansion of sustainable markets and to influence core business behavior. It has also gone hand in hand with a rising number of large multi-stakeholder partnership initiatives or “issue networks”. These have been praised for enabling dynamic processes for issue-focused consultation and scalable operations among numerous private and public parties, as well as for including private sector representatives in their governance structures.

To shed more light on these trends, this report explores:

  • Why partnerships with the private sector have emerged as a g rowing field of activity for the United Nations and what the impetus is from the business perspective;
  • Which institutional changes have taken place in the United Nations to facilitate the creation of partnerships, manage their risks and enhance their effectiveness; and
  • Which kinds of partnerships are most effective in contributing to development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by exploring key trends in core business and value chain partnerships, social investment and philanthropic partnerships, and advocacy and public policy engagement partnerships, as well as the growing phenomenon of multi-stakeholder issue networks.

To download the report, please click here.

For more information, please contact Wade Hoxtell, Research Associate, Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) and Editor, UN-Business Focal Point Newsletter