Public-private partnerships are considered critical to implementing the new global 2030 sustainable development agenda. How such partnerships are established and enacted will impact more or less positively on sustainable development for all. Sustainable development problems cannot be defined separately from the system from which they emerge. Public-private partnerships are a complex intervention into that system. This paper advances a systems understanding of the ways in which power relations in specific contexts may shape partnerships, influencing which partners may be included and excluded (elements); how these elements relate to each other (relations); and the partnership that is produced (system). This paper indicates that there is little room for complacency. Transformative development solutions require partnerships to be a crucible for transformation; currently, they are not. However, they can usefully be supported to fulfil their transformative potential. A systems approach, coupled with a keen eye for asymmetries of power, can lead to new ways of mapping and evaluating partnerships for more equitable partnering behaviours.
Moira V. Faul
is a Visiting Research Fellow at UNRISD. She is also Head of Research at the Public-Private Partnerships Research Centre at the University of Geneva. Originally from Zimbabwe, Moira held managerial positions in the private and NGO sectors in Europe and Asia before embarking on her research career.