Business Blurs the Lines of Diplomacy for Social Impact

In celebration of Global Partnerships Week, the New Global Citizen is highlighting innovative partnerships at the intersection of the public and private sectors. On April 7, 2014, PYXERA Global hosted the Public-Private Partnership Forum, which brought together leaders from the public, private, and social sectors, to examine how cross-sector interests converge to achieve shared value. Featured above: U.S. Congressman Jim Moran, Bruce McNamer, CEO of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and Karl Hofmann, CEO of Population Service International, discuss the challenges and opportunities inherent to cross-sector engagement and the requirements of being a leader in a globally connected world broadcast live from Knight Studio at the Newseum. 

Effective, pragmatic partnerships based on shared objectives—economic growth, financial stability, and more—are the future of diplomacy. Such partnerships will be the engine for increased security and prosperity, not just for advanced, but also for emerging economies around the world. Creating spaces at international summits for public and private sector leaders to collaborate is critical. Existing public-private pairings such as the United Nations General Assembly and UN Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, or the Group of 20 (G20) and Business 20 (B20) have a proven record of success. They, and future collaborations such as the Concordia Summit and .CO Internet announced recently, will orchestrate long-term opportunities for cross-sector cooperation, and in turn, promote long-term economic growth that taps into public-private partnerships that are still nascent in diplomacy, but were celebrated last week as part of Global Partnerships Week (GP3) at the U.S. State Department. [1]

The State Department has been a leading champion and early innovator of public-private partnerships through the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships that has recently published its comprehensive report on the “State of Global Partnerships.” But other global and regional institutions have an equally important role in helping to level the playing field in expertise and providing a macro view for the private sector on international development and economic issues. Recognition of the relevance of the private sector in setting some of the norms and standards that governments and international institutions are building is critical. How to support job creation and spur growth is a universal question that all governments struggle with; therefore it is vital to involve the private sector early on in both traditional development and diplomacy projects using appropriate incentives. For example, the private sector can build low cost hospitals and schools better than governments in many cases—therefore how can institutions facilitate these efficiencies systematically rather than through one-off philanthropic endeavors? The private sector often struggles to find ways to obtain relevance in the eyes of government, while diplomats often underestimate the utility of including businesses and multinational companies in their discussions. To capture and promote private sector capital flows internationally there is a real need to support and develop the private sector within countries, which necessitates greater cross-sector collaboration.

The intersection of public and private sectors has now blurred the lines in diplomacy. Today in Washington, American diplomats are beginning to understand that public-private partnerships are an ideal mechanism for getting the most out of available resources, technology, knowledge, and networks. Faced with constricting budgets, U.S. officials are trying to find smarter ways to make government capital more catalytic. And perhaps more importantly, these partnerships might be the most effective foreign policy tool that America has at its disposal today.

Expanding this American model globally, with the help of multinational companies, includes seeking advice and collaboration, rather than trying to simply direct the private sector from the public. The best way to capitalize on the overlapping interests between various sectors is to designate senior-level responsibility for that task, completely tied to core business and focused on unlocking new markets in partnership with governments. Efforts such as the UN’s Global Education First Initiative and the State Department’s Global Partnership Initiative coordinate with some of the largest private sector companies and offer potential examples for the future.

For the private sector, investing in diplomacy is not merely charity—it is an opportunity. Technology giant Hewlett-Packard has provided business skills training to young entrepreneurs in 49 countries through its HP LIFE program. Similarly, throughout the world Cisco, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, to name just a few companies, are using a combination of low-technology (face-to-face training from local experts) and high-technology (web-based learning) solutions to build human capital.

By taking on the mentality that all parties stand to gain through collaboration, partnerships leverage resources by blending public grants and guarantees with private investment, effectively making the sum greater than the individual parts. Co-creating solutions with civil society and the private sector—as opposed to dictating solutions from above—is the wave of the future in Washington given the new global dynamics. The more opportunity that established and emerging powers can provide globally and locally for a very talented next generation through their private sectors, the more successful the global economy will become. Rather than reactively bemoaning the effects of shrinking government budgets and the rise of non-state actors, proactively adjusting international diplomacy to include the private sector is the best path forward.

So while we take stock of our celebration of Global Partnerships Week last week, let’s hope for a future where every week is a global partnership.

Joshua Walker

Dr. Joshua W. Walker is Director of Global Programs for APCO Worldwide, a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund, on the National Board of Sister Cities International, and formerly worked as a Senior Advisor to Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the US Department of State.

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