Enduring Results Study 4.0: Exploring the Drivers of Sustainability in USAID’S Partnership with the Private Sector


 Exploring the Drivers of Sustainability in USAID’S Partnership with the Private Sector

USAID believes that engaging the private sector for market-based approaches are key to achieving sustainable development outcomes—with or without USAID support. Learn more about how USAID engages the private sector through the PSE page on USAID's website. To that end, USAID partnered with the LASER PULSE Consortium, led by Purdue University on a recurring research activity that explores the drivers of sustainable results of USAID’s partnerships with the private sector by revisiting outcomes at least two years after USAID's role in the partnership has formally ended. 

This report, researched in partnership with Dalberg Global Development Advisors and CRS, is the fourth iteration of the ‘Enduring Results Study’ (ERS) and serves as a guiding reference for USAID, the private sector, and the development and humanitarian communities to explore what drives enduring results in USAID’s partnerships with the private sector. In ERS 4.0, 82 percent (14 of 17) partnerships studied were assessed to have produced enduring results. Of these, the results of about half of the partnerships that sustained also grew in scale. ERS 4.0 took a closer look at particular partnership characteristics that past studies found to be especially relevant in shaping enduring results, including local vs. global partnership orientation, private sector contributions, market orientation, and partnership duration. In the study’s examination of these characteristics and their role in producing enduring results, the three ‘building blocks of enduring results’ - ownership, trust, and agility - emerged through interviews and analysis as an underlying explanation for why certain partnership characteristics could be relevant in producing enduring results.

Enduring Results Definition 

A partnership is considered to have produced enduring results when a significant part of its activities – or activities stemming from the partnership – continue (and potentially grow in scale) beyond its operational period to produce ongoing impact. (Detailed definition can found be in the summary report) 

Key findings across ERS 4.0 focus areas

Past studies found partnership characteristics especially relevant in shaping enduring results, include local vs. global partnership orientation, private sector contributions, market orientation, and partnership duration.

Local and Global Partners 

  • Global partners more commonly provided funding for activities and contributed their brand value and reputation to build the initiative’s credibility. Oftentimes, these assets supported partnerships to scale across geographies or cultivate buy-in from national stakeholders. (assets include – specialized capabilities, funding, brand value, proprietary information, and relationships) 
  • Global partners often generated additional financial support by tapping into their broader networks to elevate successes and cultivate buy-in from a broad variety of actors (i.e., positive exposure, that led to additional private sector partners and demonstrated success leading to government uptake).
  • Local partners often provided critical expertise and leadership for partnerships operating in sensitive contexts, such as post-conflict communities or working with youth or vulnerable populations. Understanding cultural nuances, sensitivity to interpersonal dynamics, and deep community ties were key to establishing trust with communities in these settings.
  • Local partners are more likely contributed to a partnership’s sustainability outcomes through specialized capabilities and relationships, leading efforts to tailor approaches and activities to their local context and build trust and buy-in among community stakeholders.
  • Local partners had incentives to drive enduring results due to the strength and longevity of their commitment to the populations and sectors of focus. These commitments, and the name recognition local partners often developed through the operational period, helped cultivate a sense of ownership among local partners.

Private Sector Contributions  

  • The number of assets contributed by private sector partners may help drive enduring results. In 9 of the 14 partnerships (~64 percent) that produced enduring results, private sector partners contributed 3 or more distinctive assets throughout the implementation phase.  In half of the partnerships that produced enduring results, the private sector partner played a critically additive role (i.e., no other actor is likely to have achieved the same results).
  • Engaging private sector partners in more substantive roles encouraged private sector actors to contribute a greater number of relevant assets and capabilities. Four of the 7 partnerships that sustained and scaled, involved a private sector actor as a “co-partner” in designing and implementing the activity. It allowed partners to feel that their perspectives were heard and reflected in the partnership's work.

Market-oriented and Non-Market Oriented Partnerships 

  • Market-oriented partnerships' potential for commercial benefit played a large role in aligning incentives, cultivating buy-in, and enabling increased contribution from private sector partners, which is linked to greater commitment to sustain activities. Particularly in broader, multi-partner initiatives, clear commercial benefits played a significant role in aligning incentives across various stakeholders in the studied partnerships.
  • Market-oriented partnerships found natural ownership in private-sector partners that tend to drive partnership outcomes when there is potential for commercial benefit.
  • Non-market-oriented partnerships often aim for the government or other stakeholders to adopt the partnership’s activities to sustain and scale results. They found that government and policy engagement strongly impact the partnership’s enduring results. Especially if an activity’s objective was to achieve scale and sustain partnerships aimed at government adoption through advocacy and demonstration of results.
  • Non-market-oriented partnerships found that deliberate planning for both sustainability and scale-up of activities would be critical (e.g., identifying and cultivating future activity owners, creating mechanisms for participants to drive ongoing activities, etc.).

Partnership Duration

  • Longer partnership periods appeared to be valuable for partnerships in more nascent sectors and those focused on testing or launching new solutions, partly because of the additional time needed to navigate a dynamic partnership in uncertainty. These types of partnerships benefited from a longer planning period up-front to conduct research on the sector or market and then sufficient time for cycles of iteration and testing on best-fit approaches.
  • Longer partnership periods allowed for substantial capacity building and transfer of ownership to the local implementing partner, a powerful - if indirect - impact of USAID’s work. This kind of capacity building not only invested in strengthening the ecosystem of development actors within a community, but was a crucial tool in cultivating ownership and incrementally increasing the level of responsibility local partners held over program activities, enabling them to lead activities beyond the USAID partnership period.
  • Shorter partnership periods were more likely to lead to enduring results when the partnership objectives were narrowly focused and the partners’ core activities were closely aligned with the project’s main objectives. For shorter partnerships, a narrower activity focused on clear and attainable objectives , which enabled an efficient transfer of ownership to relevant actors after the partnership, leading to more enduring results.

As ERS 4.0 explored broader questions of why and how different types of partnerships produced enduring results, stakeholders repeatedly pointed to the importance of ownership, trust, and agility as foundational ‘building blocks’ in driving enduring results across all types of partnerships. These concepts are often complementary, enabling and reinforcing one another within partnerships with enduring results. These ‘thematic briefs’ aim to consolidate learnings on these concepts in the partnership context to support USAID staff, implementing partners, and private sector partners in building strong partnerships positioned for enduring impact.