Why Can’t We Be Friends?

otter_hug it out
The discussion of public-private partnership is often underscored by a general feeling on the part of the public sector that the private sector is cold and calculating, making decisions founded only on business and profit with no real understanding of the real needs of people. At the same time, there is a general feeling on the part of the private sector that the public sector is grossly inefficient with no real model or strategy in place. I would argue that partnership between the public and private sectors is all too often understood as the high efficiency private sector swooping in to save the low-funded, inefficient public sector. The conversation tends to center around governments capitalizing on the skills of the private sector to build models of efficiency and (let’s be honest here) bring in the money to make it all happen.

So let’s change the conversation.

In the world in which we live, money is power. A man like Bill Gates has the ability to pretty much single-handedly choose what will be the next global health thrust. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $10 Billion dollars in 2012 to support Vaccine Development for 10 years.1 The Danish Government partnered with private companies, including IBM, to develop a technology portal to improve communication within the healthcare industry (eHealth) which has shown to improve health and reduce costs.2 The NIH uses public-private partnerships to find and fund new models for biomedical research.

It is the unique role of the public sector (and also its charge) to embrace this partnership and help drive it toward social innovation that is accountable to the people. Not to markets, not to supply chains, but to the people who are the reason for partnership in the first place. Let us, as public health practitioners, increase our knowledge of business economics, as we will be surely be left behind if we don’t. And let’s push those in the private sector to embrace the fact that a business model is not always the answer. For their charge is not to save the public sector but embrace it as an incredible driver of social change. The public sector has to begin to see itself as such.

The only way that this partnership can thrive is if both parties embrace what they do best without feeling like they are constantly on the defensive and work together to share different strengths, knowledge, and resources to enact real change. The question is not whether a good partnership can exist (there is indeed proof that it can) but if the partnership drives social innovation through the exchange of ideas and values, the shifting of roles and relationships, and the integration of private capital with public and philanthropic support. (We can’t forget the voluntary sector!)

First let’s throw out the stereotypes of the greedy, money-hungry soul suckers (although I think I just figured out my Halloween costume) and the volkswagen-driving, peace sign flipping, burnt-out perpetuators of inefficiency. Businesses can grow economies but they inevitably leave the poorest 10% behind. The public sector often feels powerless to take risks, and can work with the private sector to harness the power of innovation to drive social change that doesn’t leave out that 10% but advocates for it.

Dan Pallotta wants to transform the way we think of giving and change. Although his focus is on non-profits, he lays out a needed paradigm shift in how we think about changing the world. Check it out!





2Thomas, K., & Wolf, M. (2009). Innovation Strategies for Addressing Today’s Healthcare Challenges: Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships to Achieve Results. International Journal Of Innovation Science, 1(4), 179-190.


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