Public-Private Partnerships: Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?

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Written by Samantha Thorne

As the world has globalized, so have problem-solving strategies. Isolated and one-sided solutions no longer suffice when combating issues that afflict much of the developing world. To address these challenges, the United Nations and its development program (UNDP) conceived the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—”a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” The seventeenth and final SDG of using partnerships to collaboratively overcome development challenges differs from the other goals by being a means to an end—in order to accomplish the other 16 SDGs, the seventeenth goal must be applied. But as public-private partnerships (PPPs) coalesce various governments, private enterprises and civil societies to improve countries’ access to clean water and sanitation and also affordable and clean energy, many wonder if the amount of partner coordination required in PPPs detracts from overall development success and creates a “too many cooks in the kitchen” crisis.

Clean Water and Sanitation—Chimoio, Mozambique

The Water and Development Alliance (WADA), formed by Coca-Cola and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), combined its partners’ competitive advantages to attract diverse sources of investment and solve water issues plaguing Chimoio, Mozambique. With the support of the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF), the public-private partnership strove to address the UN’s sixth SDG to “ensure access to water and sanitation for all.” Additional partners included the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Vitens—the largest Dutch water company and the Mozambican Government with its urban water investment program, FIPAG. Their concerted efforts addressed Chimoio’s past of chronic water shortages and inadequate sanitation.

The WADA partnership had two objectives: to rehabilitate TextAfrica (a neglected Mozambican textile water treatment plant) and extend a secondary water distribution network to Bairro 4—one of Chimoio’s most underserved neighborhoods. The combinative funds and efforts of partners and stakeholders within the TextAfrica restoration project provided “19,600 people, 12 schools, a hospital and secondary health facility” access to a consistent and clean water source, according to an IHC case study report. The project’s second component gave 7,200 people in Bairro 4 access to secure and piped water for the first time. FIPAG (the Government of Mozambique Urban Water Investment Program) and Vitens trained the local water company’s staff to ensure the program’s continuity and sustainability. The project totaled to $2,151,000; WADA provided 84 percent of the funds while FIPAG and Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs contributed the rest.

Deciding whether or not the Mozambican clean water project was successful is somewhat subjective. Project information relating to specific contractual duties, timelines and budget allocations in Chimoio is  not readily available since the Water and Development Alliance’s scope exceeds beyond Mozambique as it targets providing clean water in 30 different countries. Thus, project specifics pertain to the program’s entirety rather than just the Mozambique case study. Additionally, a universal criteria judging individual project success does not exist and it is unclear whether or not “improvement” equates to “success.” Importantly, however, the UN developed criteria within its SDGs to help overcome project subjectivity when discussing its specific 2030 targets and Goal 17 SDG targets.

The public-private partnership did improve clean water and sanitation in Chimoio since more Mozambicans gained access to it in a streamline, innovative and timely manner. Sufficient funds were available, the treatment facility was restored and more individuals living in Bairro 4 have access to piped water. WADA partners did not reinvent the wheel, but rather greased the wheels. By rehabilitating and extending existing projects, efforts were more cost effective and less invasive. The project focused on accessibility and sustainability by targeting a specific region and population and strengthening the city’s water infrastructure by using TextAfrica as a drinking water supply treatment facility. The project’s provision of technical assistance to SARL, the municipal water company, and its staff improved company communications and administrative, technical and financial management practices needed to maintain clean water into the future.

Though many argue that PPPs’ extensive network of partners creates a problem of too many cooks in the kitchen, this particular partnership made sure each cook had a family to feed—each partner had a stake in the overall success of the project. Take Coca-Cola’s stake in the project: contributing to the project enabled the local Coca-Cola’s bottler, Coca-Cola Sabco, to improve its own operations by having clean water for its products. Project involvement also improved Coca-Cola’s company image. Prioritizing stakes and stakeholders ultimately allowed the Water and Development Alliance to attract reliable investment sources from experienced partners; experienced both in terms of spearheading clean water initiatives in the past in other countries and also being well-established companies and organizations.

Affordable and Clean Energy—Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City’s Sustainable Buildings Certification Program (SBCP) endeavors to meet the seventh SDG to provide clean and affordable energy. In its 2017 report, UN Environment distinguished the SBCP as a successful public-private partnership in implementing clean and affordable energy practices to achieve tangible economical and ecological results.

The goal of the program and partnership is to both assess and improve the sustainability of commercial, industrial and residential buildings since their energy use previously accounted for approximately 30 percent of the city’s carbon emissions. Mexico City’s SBCP aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) Initiative and Mexico City’s goal to reduce 2000 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050—combining the efforts of Mexico City’s Ministry of the Environment, third party auditors and local companies in building and construction industries to do so.

Launched in 2009 and lasting until 2030, the SBCP uses reduced property and payroll taxes, in addition to lower energy and water bills, to incentivize building owners, tenants and the city government to improve their ecological footprints. This voluntary initiative awards participating individuals and organizations with certificates that reflect sustainability performance levels in areas such as energy efficiency, water usage and solid waste. Upon receiving the certificate, recipients receive the aforementioned tax breaks. By doing so, the SBCP uses incentivizing carrots rather than punishing sticks to inspire environmental change amongst Mexican citizens

As of 2017, 65 buildings covering 8,220 square meters participated in the program, creating 68 new jobs and saving “116,789 tons of CO2, 133 million kWh of electricity and 1,735,356 cubic meters of potable water.” This success is attributed to prioritizing the local population to understand that clean energy can be both environmentally and economically beneficial.

The project’s interactive approach of recruiting individuals’ involvement is making Mexico City’s energy more clean and affordable. Its tiered certification program enables various tenants, contractors and businesses to have multiple points of participation entry, ensuring that individuals and small businesses with limited capital access are not obstructed to program involvement and certificates. Though the overarching SE4All Initiative combines the efforts of more international groups like the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC) and the World Bank, the SBCP is more localized by forming public-private partnerships at grassroots levels.

The SBCP’s past accomplishments and anticipated future successes are owed to targeting the local population. While the project relies heavily on multiple individuals and their personal choices to adopt ecological living practices, the SBCP prioritizes sustainability and community involvement: if local citizens do not care to maintain a project, how is the hard work of partnerships supposed to continue into the future? However, the role of tax breaks and lower water and energy bills incentivize continued compliance. So although there are even more cooks in the Mexico City kitchen, each cook is given an incentivizing carrot to create a recipe for success.

The work of partnerships in Chimoio and Mexico City reveal that public-private partnerships work. Though many fear that too many partners and stakeholders can complicate projects and cause the final results to suffer, considering the role and wants of partners can overcome such dilemmas. Specifically in Chimoio, partners were not only experienced and affluent, but each partner had a stake in ensuring that Mozambique attained cleaner water. Partners in Mexico City’s Sustainable Buildings Certification Program received more business, tax breaks and lower utility costs through their project involvement, while making Mexico City more environmentally friendly. Thus, when endeavoring to accomplish United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, partnerships do not create a crisis of a crowded kitchen full of cooks, or rather a crowded development project full of partners. Partnerships should continue to be used when looking to solve SDGs in the future, but careful thought must be applied when deciding which partners to assemble.