It’s taken a while for the global education sector to start talking seriously about partnerships with the private sector. But if my meeting in Davos at last month’s World Economic Forum is any indicator, it looks like global education leaders are ready to take on the conversation. FSG, a San Francisco based consulting firm in partnership with the Stanford Social Innovation Review, hosted 20 CEOs from education companies and education nonprofits to discuss the concept of shared value. The idea is that companies and nonprofits should focus on building partnerships based on common objectives rather than following the traditional philanthropic model.
Moving on from philanthropy
Having worked in both the private and public sectors, and seen public-private partnerships continue to evolve this was music to my ears. Looking at other development sectors, there are many lessons for education to learn. For example, corporate philanthropy in the health sector has thrived. Yet it has also exposed the inability to scale those relationships to the level of funding that’s needed to have greatest impact. Recognizing this, the health sector has been at the forefront of cultivating in-kind partnerships, where the private sector lends its expertise to a project to solve strategic challenges.
The concept of shared value
While these partnerships have made excellent sound bites and presentations at shareholder conferences, they have the same shortcoming as corporate philanthropy. In development, we need to have staying power –sometimes over several years– to see interventions grow and show results. But corporations have little incentive to commit resources for long-term development projects. This is not the fault of the corporations they are not in the business of development. But if the education sector is to truly embrace shared value as a private-sector engagement strategy we need to:
- Get the right people in the room. This includes corporate strategists and product developers – people core to the future of their company.
- Find the sweet spot. We need to identify areas of strategic overlap so that it’s in the company’s best interest to work with us.
Developing market-based approaches for education
By getting the right people in the room, we can have an honest conversation about concrete challenges that an organization like the Global Partnership for Education faces. We can determine together if those challenges are aligned with the corporation’s strategy for growth. For example, if the Global Partnership is worried about ensuring that teachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are paid on time, then we could partner, for example, with m-Pesa, a mobile-phone based money transfer to develop a market-based approach. The Global Partnership for Education would have a sustainable solution to an entrenched problem, and for businesses it’s an opportunity to listen to the needs of emerging markets and better innovate to fill those needs.
It’s an exciting time to be thinking about public-private partnerships. And I am excited that we are willing to ask ourselves tough questions and are not afraid to push boundaries!