Reflecting on Public-Private Dialogue: During a Pandemic and Beyond

01.06.2021 | Kim Eric Bettcher

The COVID-19 virus brings public-private dialogue (PPD) into sharp relief. In 2020, stimulus packages, tax breaks, access to finance, and COVID testing all became high-profile subjects of advocacy and dialogue. The virus also raised operational challenges and a host of competing priorities, thus raising questions about how or whether dialogue processes would continue. Would 2020 mark a low point for PPD or a focal point for mutual engagement on crisis response and recovery?

Since 2016,  the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation has been leading an effort to monitor and improve the quality of public-private dialogue. In 2020, its member countries and development partners paused to reflect on findings from biennial monitoring and the impact of the pandemic, as well as opportunities to engage stakeholders in the reform of dialogue platforms. A new self-reflection guide from the Global Partnership sheds light on the current practice of PPD, its instrumental role in the toolbox of private sector engagement, and future directions for PPD within the framework of the 2019 Kampala Principles for effective engagement.

Since 2016,  the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation has been leading an effort to monitor and improve the quality of public-private dialogue

The Global Partnership monitors the quality of PPD as a linchpin of collaboration toward sustainable development. Its latest round of monitoring, completed in 2018, incorporated broader stakeholder perspectives to capture a better rounded view. While there was a shared willingness across groups to engage in dialogue, diverging perspectives revealed a need to focus on greater inclusion and ensure the relevance of topics on the agenda. The Global Partnership is now encouraging public and private actors to reflect on individual country findings to address such needs.

The self-reflection guide presents examples from the pandemic of both:

  • PPD related to crisis response, and
  • PPD related to business environment reform.

These examples, featuring initiatives from CIPE and its private sector partners, describe how PPD led to agreement on an Economic Management Framework for COVID-19 Response in Kenya, reopening of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for the movement of critical supplies, and the promotion of a digital transformation strategy in Ethiopia. Other processes looked at how laws and public administration affect business behaviors and incentives.  In many cases, business has shown greater receptivity to partnership during the pandemic, while governments have continued to make reforms that create a basis for recovery.

These positive developments must be seen in the context of enormous operational and policy challenges. Short-term flexibility has been essential to adjusting communication channels, obtaining information on sharply impacted business conditions, and providing humanitarian relief. In the longer term, deeper adaptation will be needed to build trust and leverage the full capabilities of PPD toward recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In each country, champions of dialogue can anchor their reflections in the Kampala Principles. These five principles point the way toward relevant, inclusive engagement that effectively targets key development objectives and core business interests.

We know that public-private dialogue will continue, but its effectiveness cannot be taken for granted. Whose interests will be represented and who will be left behind? Will the themes of dialogue be relevant to recovery, to sustainable development, and to actual business challenges? The GPEDC self-reflection guide helps champions of PPD to consider where they are today and where they need to go.

CIPE partner the Iraqi Businessmen Union leads a public-private dialogue session in Baghdad, Iraq in 2014.