The State Department’s Public-Private Matchmaker

    The State Department’s Global Partnership Center, launched in late 2007, seeks to match up private organizations with government agencies to advance common objectives abroad.

    The U.S. Department of State does many things. One of its latest roles is perhaps a bit unexpected - that of a matchmaker.

    The State Department's Global Partnership Center, launched in late 2007, seeks to match up private organizations with government agencies in an effort to advance U.S. foreign policy and development goals. It illustrates State's recognition that new strategies are often needed to advance objectives abroad, and that public-private partnerships are key.

    "Embassies are no longer the U.S. presence overseas," Chris Scalzo told Devex this winter, weeks before he left his position as the center's managing director. "It's more complex now and includes the U.S. government, for-profit companies, non-governmental organizations, foundations and other partners."

    The Secretary of State's Advisory Committee for Transformational Diplomacy recommended the center's creation. This group was tasked with developing a strategy for how the State Department could better do business given 21st century technological and geopolitical realities.

    "The importance of non-traditional actors will continue to rise. From the proliferation of NGOs to the kind of private philanthropy exemplified by the [Bill & Melinda] Gates Foundation, to increased engagement by corporate, business and academic entities, 21st century diplomacy must adapt to the presence of these non-traditional actors in the foreign affairs domain," the committee said in a report delivered to former Secretary Condoleeza Rice in January 2008. "To be relevant and effective, the [U.S. government] must strengthen its ability to engage these organizations and leverage their growing resources and capabilities."

    The goal of the center is to help build partnerships, build capacity for partnerships, and steward relationships with partners, Scalzo said. It plans to create a series of toolkits to facilitate partnerships, and is working on a database of all private-public partnerships across the federal government. The database - which is often referred to as the "Clearinghouse" - is used by the center to identify best practices for federal private-public partnerships.

    "We want [the database] to be a tool to help strategic priorities align with one another," Scalzo said.

    The Clearinghouse already lists 1,600 partners and more than 650 partnerships. The majority of these partnerships address economic issues and are located in Europe and Eurasia, according to data provided by Scalzo.

    The first partnership created through the Global Partnership Center was between the government of Malawi, the Rodale Institute and Women's Campaign International. Through a memorandum of understanding announced in September 2008, the parties aim to improve women's empowerment, food security, and economic and environmental sustainability.

    Specific numbers on the center's budget are not public. However, the Malawi-WCI partnership has a budget of $3.3 million over three years. According to the MOU, sources for this funding must be identified by the private partners.

    The U.S. government partners with a diverse group of organizations. Key, however, is that their goals align with those of the U.S. government.

    Private organizations "can begin to view the United States government as a partner rather than a contracting vehicle," Scalzo said.

    Partners also must be willing to share risks with the United States, including financially, as well as demonstrate that the outcome of the partnership is more desirable than results would be if the two parties worked independently.

    Scalzo cited two partnerships as being good models for future agreements. The first, Phones-for-Health, is a partnership between the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, the GSM Association Development Fund, Accenture Development Partners, Motorola, MTN and Voxiva. It attempts to use technology to connect health systems as part of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

    The second partnership is the Fortune/State Department International Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership, a program in which female executives from the United States mentor women in developing countries.

    Partnerships are generally formed through memorandums of understanding, Scalzo said. Administrative requirements vary from partnership to partnership.

    Organizations interested in forming partnerships with the U.S. government can contact officials at individual embassies or the center itself.

    "Organizations are welcome to contact the [center] if they believe their points of contact are not appropriate for a partnership discussion," Scalzo said, "or should they desire the role of an ‘honest broker' and one-stop shop to convene relevant stakeholders from U.S. government agencies or explore which agencies are best positioned to advance their partnership interests."

    About the author

    • David Francis

      David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette,, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.