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Public-Private Partnerships: A Win-Win Solution

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The promotion of development and more effective delivery of services remains a critical challenge for many governments around the world. Failure to respond successfully to society's most pressing needs can erode public trust in government institutions and have destabilizing effects. This is especially important in societies facing severe poverty and income inequality, sharp ethnic divisions, organized crime and violence, among others.

However, governments around the world are dealing with significant financial constraints, limiting their efforts to expand basic services. In Latin America, for example, experts are already predicting that growth will substantially slow to just 3 percent in the next several years. This further complicates the landscape in the Americas, where citizens have taken to the streets to demand better transportation, health, and education services, and to protest against poverty, crime, and corruption.

These challenges present opportunities for the private sector to complement public priorities to improve access and efficiency of social and community services. Creating innovative public-private partnerships (PPPs) between government, business, and civil society has assumed greater importance, because they offer a promising option to achieve these objectives for the region. This is especially relevant now as international donors begin to look beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and start defining a post-2015 agenda.

But why can PPPs succeed? By working across sectors and utilizing the unique strengths of each partner, PPPs can deliver benefits to society that go far beyond what partners could have achieved on their own. When public institutions collaborate with businesses and civil society, they pool together financial and technical resources, such as money, materials, skills, knowledge, and networks, and the credibility of their brands. In addition to resources, they also share responsibilities, risks, costs, and benefits. Even with less successful PPPs, such partnerships can still reinforce and promote good governance practices, such as accountability, transparency, social inclusion, and the empowerment of local leaders. It is a win-win arrangement for all involved.

Traditionally, PPPs have brought together public and private partners to finance, build, operate, and maintain infrastructure projects, including highways, ports, telecommunications, sewage systems and water treatment facilities. More recently, governments across the globe have taken creative steps to enable such joint ventures in additional sectors ranging from health, education, and environmental conservation, to agriculture and community development.

Latin American countries have increasingly recognized the effectiveness of PPPs. Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay have modified their regulatory frameworks to encourage them. In 2012, for example, Colombia enacted legislation to enable closer cooperation between public and private entities in an effort to promote projects related to road construction, clean energy, public housing, schools, hospitals, recreational facilities, and more.

But PPPs are not new, although their role has become more critical than ever. Over several decades, I have seen firsthand how the Inter-American System has served as a catalyst and innovator in PPP development. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) in particular, as a strategic partner of the Organization of American States (OAS), became one of the earliest organizations to promote PPPs in a systematic manner, thereby providing a mechanism through which multinational and local companies can participate in development programs in the LAC region.

In 1962, Caterpillar Inc. was one of the first companies to support the establishment of PADF as a specialized OAS mechanism for encouraging greater private involvement in local development and disaster assistance. Today, we continue to work with Caterpillar in Haiti and Brazil in partnership with public sector entities, civil society, and community groups. The PPP in Brazil aims to protect and expand urban green spaces, conserve endangered forests, and foster more sustainable environmental practices. Activities in Haiti focus on repairing homes and infrastructure severely damaged by the terrible earthquake of January 2010.

In partnership with the Colombian government, PADF implemented a program to help more than 11,000 internally displaced and vulnerable people to increase their incomes through the development of microenterprises and small businesses. We also mobilized support from more than 300 Colombian companies in addition to multinationals such as Boeing, Royal Caribbean Cruises and others. This demonstrates how PPPs can help address one of the most challenging humanitarian crises--the displacement of people from their homes caused by civil strife.

The Mexican government, corporate partners such as MTV, Teléfonica and Cinépolis, and civil society groups together with PADF created an alliance to combat human trafficking, raise awareness and educate the public about this issue. A mass media campaign reached more than 4 million people in seven Mexican states, including Mexico City.

In each case, these partnerships have leveraged the resources and expertise of each partner to achieve positive and lasting results.

As we look to the future, PPPs offer a unique solution to many societal challenges, particularly when partnerships are created on common goals, consensus-based decision making, shared accountability for outcomes and results, and synergistic interactions. These specific factors allow each partner to bring to the table unique resources to transform communities. When carried out in this manner, PPPs can generate innovative solutions to complex problems and foster lasting inclusion and prosperity for communities throughout the world.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction around the United Nations General Assembly's 68th session and its general debate on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), "Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage" (September 24-October 2, 2013). The session will feature world leaders discussing progress made on the MDGs and what should replace them when they expire in 2015. To read all the posts in the series, click here; to follow the conversation on Twitter, find the hashtag #No1Behind. For more information about InterAction, click here.