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Partnership building in South-East Asia

I’m in Jakarta this week for a meeting called the Asia-Pacific Development Summit with the subtitle ‘Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) to close regional health MDG gaps’.

As always, there could be long debates about definitions. The terms ‘civil society’ and ‘private sector’ are being used interchangeably to include NGOs in the category of private sector and for-profit companies as part of civil society.

Over the last few years I have been to an awful lot of meetings where everyone attests that the private sector is “vital” to development and needs to be “engaged”.

No-one argues with that but it is usually unclear whether it means more private sector money being donated for development, more corporate knowledge being made available to development or more public money and aid being handed over to the private sector to provide services that are usually a state responsibility.

A framework for debate

I was on the opening panel alongside Proctor & Gamble, GSK and Nokia. All of these, and many other companies present, have interesting and important activities in developing countries, usually supporting government health systems with new technology, management skills or funding.

I argued that we need more of a theoretical framework to approach debates, especially about which services are appropriate to be paid for and provided by for-profit companies and which are not.

I suggested the Children’s Rights and Business Principles as a framework for the private sector to look at their business and how it can contribute to children’s rights.

This has recently been developed by Save the Children, UNICEF and UN Compact and sets out ten principles for how businesses can respect and support rights, through avoiding harm in their practices, advocating for children’s rights, adapting their business to ensure access to services, and supporting the state’s role, including paying fair taxes.

One other terminology confusion: some people here suggested another P should be added to PPPs for ‘people’.

Being a bit dogmatic, public already means people. Public recognises that people are represented through democratic processes (admittedly of differing quality); a legitimacy which neither the private sector nor NGOs can claim.


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