Sounding off on corporate engagement in global development

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, left, tells Devex President and Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar that she is "excited but skeptical" about the private sector's role in development. Why? Watch this video.

Private sector engagement in global development continues to grow. And while some view the trend with optimism, others are more skeptical.

The private sector has lacked accountability to ordinary people, Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima told Devex in a video interview at last week’s European Development Days in Brussels.

“We have a whole legacy of firms trampling on the human rights of poor people, especially damaging the environment,” she said.

Devex readers chimed in online, suggesting stronger regulation of public-private partnerships.

“PPP models may be engines for growth,” Matthew Lorika wrote. “However, the Regulatory framework must be forthright.”

He cited the example of Lake Victoria’s “liberalized” draining by Eskom to generate power, calling it “utterly absurd that at the expense of ELECTRICITY the WATER REGULATORY AUTHORITY failed to STEM the DROP in LAKE VICTORIA water levels.”

Steven Schmidt holds a similar view.

“I have seen the poor and disadvantaged trampled in the rush to make those who hold power look good,” he said. “We must start doing high quality M&E that focuses on organizational performance in addressing the objectives stated and recorded in a single document at inception, not just inventing unintended consequences and trying to make them compensate for not achieving objectives and to cover up poor management and implementation in the field.”

Emmanuel Edudzie, meanwhile, would rather keep a positive outlook on the trend, noting the importance of the role that the private sector and other actors play in promoting social development.

“The onus is on civil society to strengthen itself to become ‘the glue that binds public and private activity together in such a way as to strengthen the common good,’” he said. “It’s time we stopped blocking the most financially resourced sector from meaningfully participating in development. Let the private sector pursue their profit, but let civil society actors retain their core missions, integrity, purposefulness and high levels of trust so that it can influence governments and the private sector to put the common good ahead of profit and politics.”

What do you think? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.