Africa and Pakistan a focus of new Australian business partnerships platform

A market in Pakistan. Photo by: Christian Roth / DFAT / CC BY

CANBERRA — The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, with the support of Palladium, is continuing to search for new partnerships to support Australian aid objectives with this week’s launch of round three of the Business Partnerships Platform.

The new round builds on the program launched in 2015, which has developed to include a country-specific round, a stronger focus on gender, and clearer business plans, objectives, and explanations of how DFAT support can take partnerships to the next level.

Round three of the BPP sees some additional changes — a new geographic focus on 19 countries, as well as seven priority sectors explained in this interactive Tableau visualization.

A focus on Africa

Since the BPP began, only one partnership in Africa has received funding — an ethical cotton production program based in Kenya, in round one. Because DFAT has limited presence on the continent, the platform has struggled to attract applications.

“In the first two rounds of the BPP, it was possible for all sub-Saharan African countries to apply,” Nicholas Wolf, Palladium’s BPP team leader, explained to Devex. “But because DFAT doesn’t have a post in every single country, it limits the potential network they can reach out to that they already have contacts with. I think in general, the Australian aid program has a smaller presence ... in Africa compared with Asia or the Pacific. So, you are working from a lower base on who may hear from it.”

In response, DFAT has been in discussion with each of its posts in Africa to find countries that are the most in need of innovative partnerships and suitable to engage in. And there is a need to align this with what the BPP is aiming to achieve, as well as the development objectives of the Australian aid program.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda are now actively soliciting applications, and these countries will see more engagement to promote the BPP while it is open for applications.

“The potential is there,” Wolf said. “We just need to receive more great applicants.”

A focus on Pakistan

David Preston, the first secretary of development cooperation for the Australian High Commission in Islamabad, explained that in Pakistan, the development challenges are many and varied. “And nearly always large — and all are important”, he said.

The past two rounds of the BPP have seen a range of applications for projects in Pakistan, which Preston considered “high quality” and “worthy of supporting.” Two partnerships have been funded — improving access to global markets for farmers in Pakistan in round one and the Pakistan partnerships in inclusive seed systems in round two.

Yet there are still more opportunities to fund.

“We have been impressed with the level of innovation and potential that many of the applications received,” Preston said. “At the same time, we have received numerous applications from which we have had to make tough decisions on which to fund.”

As part of round three, the choices may be easier. This round will see some funding specifically attached to finding and supporting partnerships in Pakistan, in four development areas — agriculture, water and fisheries; economic governance; ICT and financial inclusion; and resources and clean energy.

“The Pakistan case is something new for BPP,” Wolf explained. “We have just run the India window, which is the first time we have had a single country focus. In association with the Pakistan post, we agreed that the best way to increase their involvement [was] through the round three program, because the timing was right.”

“The process will be largely the same for applicants from Pakistan as with other countries. The difference is there is some specific funding attached to Pakistan. So, it depends on the actual application and what they are actually requesting, but we expect funding of around 13 partnerships in total and the extra funding specifically for Pakistan will mean that at least three are funded here.”

And to get quality applications from Pakistan, more of an effort will be placed on promoting and marketing the BPP — as with the plan for Africa.

“If we can help to unlock some of this potential, then we will have achieved an important outcome,” he said.

Advice to applicants

Each round of the BPP has aimed to better target partnerships and applicants — and this round is no different.

“DFAT went out to each embassy and high commission and asked them which sectors should be eligible,” Wolf said. “In every case, it is always linked to existing development objectives for the region rather than BPP coming in and stating what the priorities should be.”

The process begins early to better target applicants — and until applications close on August 10, Palladium and DFAT will be engaging potential partners in a variety of ways.

“With the India window, because it was one country, we ran a large [question and answer] session as a Facebook event — and we will look at doing similar things to this, because we did get quite a bit of interest this way and received a number of very good questions,” Wolf said. “But it is very difficult when you are talking about 19 countries. You can’t do the same thing for every similar place but we are looking at a range of options.”

Events hosted by DFAT and Palladium are expected to be promoted through the BPP website and associated LinkedIn page — and potential partners are encouraged to follow these for news and events to assist their applications.

There are minor changes round to round in the process of applying for the BPP, and applicants are encouraged to read the application form and guidelines carefully. In addition, DFAT and Palladium are asking for business plans to be provided up front.

“In rounds one and two, it was a multistep process, whereas this is a single written application with a business plan up front,” Wolf said. “We are also encouraging a greater proportion of partner contributions to come as cash rather than an in-kind contribution.”

There are also areas of focus that applicants are encouraged to demonstrate clearly in their submissions.

“When it comes to social impact, it can sometimes be difficult to explain the difference between current, future, and potential social impacts,” Wolf said. “What we would like to see is the impact you are having now, versus what you would do in one or two years’ time, versus what the BPP would bring to that. Outlining the differences between these three scenarios is really important.”

Wolf also advises businesses to consider communicating the impact a BPP partnership could bring to their business and bottom line.

“Even though we are interested in a social development impact, we are equally as interested in commercial viability and sustainability of the business,” he said. “So don’t be shy about telling us what a BPP partnership would mean to you — does it mean you could do some research and development, does it mean you could be able to scale up or seek additional investment. Explain what the funding would mean to your business.”

The advice from Preston is for applicants to review guidelines, be clear and concise about the project, partnership, and development challenges their proposal outlines, and utilize opportunities to discuss potential applications with the DFAT team at country posts.

“Be able to demonstrate clear development outcomes,” Preston said. “If possible, make it clear what the gender focus of the proposal is. Provide a clear demonstration of the leverage that our funding will provide. And explain what it is that you want out of a partnership with DFAT and where we can add value.”

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.