Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development

12 May 2012

By Christophe Bahuet, Country Director
2012 Liangjiang Forum [Session 2], Chongqing

12 May 2012, 13:40-14:00

Distinguished guests, 
ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to you all!

It is both an honour and a pleasure to have been invited to join you and to deliver some thoughts on the role of public-private partnerships in development. I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation to the Chongqing Municipal Government for this opportunity, and for their kind welcome and friendship with UNDP.

In this session, public-private partnerships are defined as a mechanism that brings together public organisations, including international ones like UNDP, and private companies to work together for projects that are non-profit and are supporting development purposes, especially the Millennium Development Goals. 

Interestingly, this alliance between the United Nations and the private sector has for a long time seemed like an unlikely one.

Just over a decade ago, the development world, that of UNDP, and the business world, that of the private sector, were two worlds apart. UNDP was exclusively engaged in development projects with national public sector counterparts, and the private sector was developing businesses that would bring about profit. In doing so, both were actually providing significant contributions to development and improving people’s lives. Their work, however, seldom crossed paths.

In the early 2000’s, a fundamental change occurred that brought them together. On one hand, UNDP diversified its partnerships and its source of funding, and recognized that the private sector could and should be an important interlocutor with a significant and positive role to play in its development work. For the first time, it became possible for UNDP to receive financial contributions from private companies and develop projects. At the same time, social and environmental issues became increasingly recognized by private companies as important ones that can directly affect their activities. Philanthropic associations and foundations linked directly to private companies were established in increasingly large numbers and became actively involved in development activities.

This double trajectory converged and almost naturally brought about public-private partnerships. This new reality was exemplified by a historic development in 2006 when the then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was joined by a group of the world’s largest institutional investors from 16 countries, representing more than US$2 trillion in assets owned, and jointly launched the Principles for Responsible Investment under the UN Global Compact.

In China, public-private partnerships are now developing and increasingly establishing themselves as an effective mechanism. They are increasing looking like the success story of effective, appropriate cooperation that benefits all parties, and a model worth presenting at events like the Liangjiang Forum. 

With its impressive growth, the Chinese private sector has the potential to make a formidable contribution to development through public-private partnerships. This is clearly true in Chongqing as a focal point for China’s western development and with its newly established rail links with Europe.

Successful examples are emerging. UNDP, Coca Cola (China), the Ministry of Water Resources, China International Centre for Economic and Technical Exchanges, are working together on water management demonstration projects, a sector where different models of private sector involvement have been applied in over 300 water supply and waste water projects. Our joint approach provides a sustainable model that encompasses policy and practice in water governance.

In 2011, UNDP also entered into a new partnership with leading Chinese cosmetic company, Jala Group. As the first public-private partnership with a private Chinese company, our project aims to provide ethnic minority communities with alternative livelihoods, employment opportunities and income generation by developing unique cultural products and broadening access to modern markets.

In early 2012, UNDP also established a new partnership with Mary Kay, the China Women's Development Foundation and the Yunnan Women’s Federation in Yunnan, to develop traditional Yi minority products and empower the community women through culture-based socio-economic development.

In addition to these efforts, we are already pioneering a private-public partnership to work with Chinese companies doing business in Africa and Asia and promote corporate social responsibility through South-South Cooperation.

As opportunities for partnerships are being explored, partners are getting to know one another better. This is an interesting learning process as the culture, mode of operation and procedures are often different between the public and the private sectors. For instance, UNDP has learned to introduce itself and its operations in a way that is more accessible to the private sector. It has come to understand better the way in which the private sector operates; its motivations for development. UNDP has articulated more clearly the advantages that an international organisation can offer as a neutral and trusted platform and the services it can provide in terms of expertise, project management support, and a structured institutional approach to building capacities in order to ensure the results of our development interventions are sustainable.

As China’s influence continues to grow in international markets, UNDP stands ready to continue building public-private partnerships that contribute to both national and international development. Therefore, may I extend an invitation to all interested companies to partner with UNDP. Together with a shared vision and objectives, we can make great achievements to improve lives, protect our planet and secure a better future for both current and future generations.

Thank you very much.