What do development professionals really think about the role of the private sector?

Devex Impact conducted a survey to learn what development professionals truly think about the impact of the private sector in development. Photo by: span112 / CC BY-SA

The role of business in development has been growing — but what do development professionals really think about private companies’ impact on the sector?

Devex Impact set to find out in a survey of more than 1,300 development professionals, which revealed some surprising results.

Given the growing number of partnerships between corporations, aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations, the perception of the private sector’s role in development has been steadily moving in a positive direction. But survey results indicate that the development community holds a much more favorable opinion of the private sector, with 91 percent of respondents viewing business as positive force in development.

Respondents most identified engagement with the terms public-private partnerships, corporate social responsibility and sustainable business. Only 2 percent of respondents associated philanthropy, which traditionally may have been the primary mode of engagement, with the role of business in development.

As regards awareness about the role of business, the survey found that only those actively involved in partnerships know about the major actors and corporations that engage in development partnerships. In addition, only 32 percent of survey respondents said they feel very informed about the ways corporations engage in development.

So who did they perceive as the top corporate partners?

It varied a bit depending on whether the engagement was through public-private partnership, corporate social responsibility or sustainable business, but Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Unilever and Shell were all identified as key corporate actors, according to the survey.

On the flip side, survey respondents also shared what they felt were the most effective development partners in private sector engagement. The Japan International Cooperation Agency, German development agency GIZ, U.S. Agency for International Development and U.K. Department for International Development topped the list of bilateral donors, while the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and U.N. Development Program lead the way among multilateral funding agencies.

The survey also examined some of the key challenges in private sector engagement, how to address them and what the future might hold. To know more about the survey results and read a deeper analysis of the findings, click here.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.