Public and Private Sector Partnerships – Nexus of Innovation or Controversy?

I believe public and private partnerships will be the drivers for social change and policy innovation. 

Indeed, this dynamic relationship has already seen an impact on national and local levels, even globally.  The Rockefeller Foundation‘s recent Innovation Forum highlighted many of the ideas coming from the technology sectors that will not only drive business, jobs, and the economy here in the United States but also have a direct impact on helping the world’s poor. 

Social entrepreneurs may bring the passion and ideas, but some have posited that accountants will be the true saviors of the planet. If this is true, I certainly hope there is not direct correlation between accounting skills and social impact, seeing how my liberal arts education never demanded I meddle in the subject. While not every accountant will use their career for social change, and not ever changemaker need be an accountant, the concept of nonprofits and the public sector leveraging specific talents often found in the private sector is an idea that is vastly growing in the policy community. With Start Up Act. 2.0 going through Congress as well as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence trend for government departments to incorporate,  public/partner partnerships are here to stay and I believe this will make a profound impact on how we address public service in the years to come.

Instead of focusing on activism or government, communities can find power and effect change through their collective business decisions. 

But we must look at the potential challenges that come with this growing trend. 

This Washington Post article discussed the ‘Rhee effect’ – the problem of having dynamic personalities in public leadership that may attract investment from the private sector – but only as long as that personality is in that role. Depending on private cash for reform is a bad idea, the author argues, because the efforts needed for true education reform (and perhaps any social change) require consistent institutional effort rather than fleeting external support or “pet causes.”

As education historian Diane Ravitch wrote in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System”:

“There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people. . . . These foundations, no matter how worthy and high-minded, are after all, not public agencies. They are not subject to public oversight or review, as a public agency would be. . . .The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.”

Have politics become so broken that we are using the private sector as a crutch for accomplishing what government originally was formed to do? How can public and private sector collaborate for innovation, and not compete? What articles have you found on this issue? Post below. 

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