Building Corporate Sector Partnerships

By Badshah, Akhtar | Public Management, October 1997 | Go to article overview

Building Corporate Sector Partnerships


Badshah, Akhtar, Public Management


Good corporate citizenship is at the forefront of the urban governance and development debate. Given the reduction in spending by governments at national and local levels all over the world, businesses are increasingly being asked to play an active role in developmental efforts. At the heart of the debate on governance, the shifting roles of government, and the role of business and civil society lies the tension between economic competitiveness and social cohesion. It is a tension that is unlikely to disappear and there are few certainties about the outcome, other than the fact that dialogue and partnership between different sectors will be crucial.

The poverty of neighborhoods contains the most concentrated and difficult social problems that local government managers have had to face. Corporate commitments to help rebuild these communities are relatively new. Until recently, corporations have largely avoided the inner city in this country and else where, and they have not been interested in investing in the rebuilding of local governments either. The scale of problems has seemed to doom corporate initiatives to failure, threatening to open way for unlimited claims on corporate resources.

Now, however, many corporations are joining with government and community groups as partners in rebuilding strategies. In part, this commitment acknowledges that a business is a stakeholder in the success or failure of an entire urban region. A corporation's headquarters can be jeopardized by deteriorating surrounding neighborhoods and the productivity of its workforce threatened when youths are subjected to poor schooling or drawn into criminal activity.

Corporations have found that, though they cannot replace government or community organizations, either as funders or policy designers, they can bring special capacities to a partnership. They possess a focused energy and goal orientation that can help galvanize the other partners.

This article examines how business, both global and local, can and have played a role in shaping sustainable communities. It also examines the obstacles that preclude active business participation in development issues. How successful have these partnerships been? Can they be sustained over a period of time? What policies and programs do managers or elected officials have to implement for businesses to participate and form partnerships with local authorities and community groups? And how can administrators change the way they perceive their roles as managers and become proactive in their approach to involve the business, civil society, academe, and media in development activities.

The Case for Public-Private Partnership

Encouraging civil society involvement does not imply that citizens alone can solve urban problems. Undeniably, grassroots groups need the support of the state, federal government, and the vast spectrum of the private sector. Many development strategies today take as their starting point building partnerships among diverse groups - officials from national and municipal governments, the business community, and community-based organizations - to help define problems and bring about solutions.

It is important to note that business can play other roles besides creating wealth. They can widen economic opportunity and participation, invest in human capital, promote environmental sustainability, and enhance social cohesion. Investing in stakeholder partnerships, with both primary and secondary stakeholders, they can play a valuable role in enhancing a company's reputation, competitiveness, productivity, efficiency, risk management, innovativeness, and long-term survival. Such partnerships can range from:

* Commercially-driven alliances and joint ventures.

* Socially-driven alliances and joint ventures.

* Ventures that combine both commercial and social objectives.

Four cases are presented here to show how businesses can participate in urban development programs and how local government managers can promote such partnerships. …

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