Lessons Learned from Private Sector Engagement Across Sectors

For two decades, Abt has spearheaded private sector engagement for better development outcomes, including the recent USAID Sustaining Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) Plus project. Lessons from this—captured in several briefs on private sector engagement—continue to guide our work across sectors, including in agriculture and energy. Below are practical tips and concrete examples for implementing partners to successfully engage the private sector:

When encouraging public-private engagement...

Facilitate inclusive and participatory dialogue, especially where collaboration has been absent

  • In Senegal, public-private engagement in health was hampered by limited opportunities to strategically engage—despite the existence of key inputs for effective dialogue, including a private health sector alliance, Public-Private Partnership unit within the Ministry of Health, and a public-private dialogue forum. To jumpstart progress, we helped these stakeholders work together to develop and implement a private health sector census that generated a wealth of data on locations of private providers and their services. This created momentum and a knowledge base for public and private actors to engage in more meaningful and focused dialogue about specific opportunities and challenges that helped develop partnerships in the health system.
  • In Cambodia, we found that public-private dialogue sessions enabled constructive problem-solving within the horticulture and cashew sectors. After holding eight provincial-level sessions with public and private actors, we helped facilitate a national dialogue to unearth key logistics and transport constraints and launch working groups to begin collaborating on solutions.

Equip the public sector with the necessary skills and understanding of why and how to engage with the private sector

  • In Tanzania, we advocated for the Ministry of Health to improve its stewardship of markets for family planning products, showing both missed opportunities and the added burden that government took on by failing to adequately engage the private sector. With this understanding, the ministry identified and addressed policy gaps that created barriers to entry for new private sector brands. We also helped the Ministry develop and roll out new strategic planning tools for local governments to better engage private health care providers within their districts and councils.
  • In Egypt, we strengthened the capacity of inspectors within the National Food Safety Authority to learn the range of food quality standards sought by food processors and exporters. These inspectors were then better able to meet their mandate of whitelisting companies and understand the challenges that food processors and exporters face in meeting food quality standards.

When Facilitating Corporate Engagement…

Cast a wide net in the corporate landscape, prioritizing companies with aligned goals and commitments

  • In India, we developed a corporate partnership with MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation to launch a radio campaign promoting sexual and reproductive health among youth. This partnership was powered by several factors: a shared interest in the subject, MTV’s willingness to invest $1 million of its own resources to scale the initiative, complementary skill sets, and a sense that the partnership would be good for its business. This campaign reached over 2 million young people across six cities in India.
  • In Southeast Asia, we helped companies increase use of renewable energy (RE) and take advantage of favorable regulatory environments for new solar energy projects. Working with a hypermarket chain and a seafood processor in Thailand and Vietnam, we mobilized $40 million for RE investment, resulting in 56 megawatts of new rooftop solar projects. We were most successful when working with firms that had already made commitments to reducing climate impacts and recognized the business case for RE solutions. Our partners had already set sustainability goals and targets to reduce emissions from their operations, which made them open to our advice on suitable business models and financing options.

Build trust and replicate success employing test-and-learn approaches

  • In Kenya, we helped design a new health care partnership with Twinings Tea and its local supplier, Eastern Produce Kenya (EPK), the local government, and local community groups. This partnership designed a model to link women working in the tea company’s supply chain to priority health products and services. The initial effort resulted in 6,155 patient interactions over a 10-month period. Following successful testing of the model, we identified lessons that Twinings and EPK would take forward to other communities in Kenya.
  • In Egypt, we partnered with PepsiCo to increase their sourcing of potatoes from smallholder farmers. The partnership started small — just 120 farmers from one cooperative in the first season. This scaled to 2,500 farmers across three governorates after the successful first harvest. We and PepsiCo learned from the pilot and adjusted our roles, with PepsiCo facilitating access to the inputs farmers needed and the project providing targeted technical assistance on production and harvesting practices.


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