Data reveal trends in USAID's global partnerships for development

A partnership among USAID, Inter-American Development Bank, Yachana Gourment and other organizations focused on improving the cocoa-bean supply chain in Ecuador. Photo: USAID / CC BY-NC-SA

Public-private partnerships for development have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. In an era of increasing globalization and severe budget constraints, a broad consensus has emerged that partnerships between government agencies and non-governmental actors are a cost-effective way to maximize impact and ensure long-term sustainability after government funding has ended.

With all the discussion of the “intersection of interests” and the potential for “win-wins,” many want to know: to what extent is this actually supported by hard data?

Accurately taking stock of all the partnering activity in development can be a challenge, as there is little consistency in the available data on public-private partnerships. A variety of factors contribute to this data shortage, among them the lack of a uniform definition of what constitutes a partnership; differing time frames and fiscal reporting; and, of course, varying priorities among the different participants in the partnership process.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, the world’s largest national provider of official development assistance, has taken initial but significant strides toward collecting data on public-private partnerships.

The agency has been a pioneer in embracing collaboration with non-governmental entities, be they corporations, NGOs, charities, universities, or some other type of organization. USAID defines public-private partnerships as collaborative endeavors in which the public and private sectors combine resources and expertise to achieve key development objectives and mutually determined results.

USAID has been highly effective in tracking inputs into the partnership process – in particular, the number of entities engaged, funding obligated, and partner dollars leveraged. This information is gathered through a combination of internal data calls, primary research, and data collaboration with other U.S. government entities like the State Department.

According to these data, over the past decade USAID has been involved in more than 1,600 partnerships with more than 3,000 individual entities. The total lifetime investment of all these partnerships, past and current, amounts to nearly $20 billion. Given that not all partnerships entail the obligation of U.S. government funds, these financial data do not capture the full magnitude of partnering activity, but they are a good proxy for what is happening in the partnership space with USAID involvement.

As of early 2013, more than 200 of these partnerships are still active, while about 1,400 have ended. Geographically, about 40% of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, with another quarter in Latin America and the Caribbean. Developing countries in Asia account for 15% of USAID’s partnerships portfolio, with all remaining regions’ shares at 10% or less.

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Broken down by USAID priority sector, both health and economic growth each account for just over a quarter of the total, followed by environment with a 14% share, agriculture and food security with 10%, democracy and governance with 9%, and all remaining sectors each with 6% or less.

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In addition to gathering the above data, USAID’s Global Partnerships team analyzed what types of entities engaged in partnerships.

As of the end of 2012, nonprofit entities – including NGOs, foundations, universities and multilateral institutions – were the primary partner in nearly a third of USAID’s active partnerships. For-profit corporations were the primary partner in another 30%. A quarter of all active partnerships included both for-profit and not-for-profit entities in significant roles, without an obvious “primary” partner. Finally, a tenth of all active partnerships were with financial institutions, in the form of loan guarantees.

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Uniformly tracking and aggregating partnerships’ results on the ground is by definition more challenging, given their remarkable diversity in terms of sector, geography, and type of collaborative project undertaken. Like for other USAID activities, the outcomes and results of partnerships are captured at the project level through individual monitoring and evaluation plans. However, there has not been a uniform framework for measuring the distinct and specific value-add of partnerships as a way of achieving a set of development outcomes.

Cognizant of this, USAID’s Global Partnerships team is now working to create a robust monitoring and evaluation framework specifically focused on partnerships, which will help to establish common standards for measuring partnerships’ value-add across continents, sectors, and partnership types. In addition, under the USAID Forward initiative, there will be a more structured overall process for tracking and reporting on partnerships.

USAID’s effort to increase data collection on partnerships mirrors a broader trend in the development field, to move beyond a focus on measuring inputs to one emphasizing the measurement of outcomes.

This evidence-based approach is an invaluable tool for highlighting the value of partnerships not just to donors and beneficiaries, but also to private-sector partners with which the development community wishes to engage.

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