Corporate Connections: The Value of Private Sector Partnerships

By Murthy, N. R. Narayana | Harvard International Review, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Corporate Connections: The Value of Private Sector Partnerships


Murthy, N. R. Narayana, Harvard International Review


Companies have a responsibility towards all stakeholders, including shareholders and the societies that make their very existence possible. Giving back, whether through charitable contributions or socially beneficial partnerships, is essential to the long term sustainability of any corporation. This is true not only for reasons of fairness, but because doing so helps create stronger societies, which in turn is good for business.

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In light of the above, the United Nations is an excellent vehicle to help catalyze investments by the private sector. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has noted, both the United Nations and innovative businesses need each other in order to create an ideal environment in which business can thrive.

At Infosys, one of our favorite sayings is, "In God we trust; everyone else must bring data to the table." Let us then consider what the United Nations accomplishes. Even though the United Nations is primarily associated with issues of peace and security, the organization spends more on development than on anything else. For decades, UN agencies have been vital "difference-makers"--a life-line for millions of people around the world. The United Nations provides food to 108 million people in 74 countries, and vaccinates 40 percent of the world's children, saving two million lives a year. The United Nations assists over 34 million refugees fleeing war, famine, or persecution, helps prevent maternal death to save lives of over 30 million women every year, keeps peace with 116,000 peacekeepers in 17 operations on four continents, and it leads a campaign to plant one billion trees a year. Many UN agencies are the world's largest aid and development organizations of their kind--for example, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

For the last decade, UN development work has been focused on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These are the eight objectives that the UN member states agreed to achieve by 2015. While significant progress has been made on the MDGs, a substantial amount of work remains to be done. No organization--be it the United Nations or any other--like the governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, or corporations, can achieve the MDGs by acting alone. Hence cross-sector and cross-organization collaborations are absolutely essential.

While the United Nations has worked with the business sector and other partners since its inception in 1945, the last dozen or so years have seen the United Nations make great strides in expanding its capacity to collaborate with partners.

Evolution of UN Partnership Capacity

History helps us better understand the current status of public-private partnerships in the UN system. Flash back to the evening of September 18, 1997, when the United Nations Association of the USA recognized Ted Turner with its Global Leadership award at its annual dinner in New York City. Standing on stage, Turner shocked the attendees with a historic announcement that he would donate US$1 billion to advance the causes for which the United Nations works. No one had ever made such a gift, and at that time the United Nations was not even equipped to receive it. In fact, Turner originally wanted to give the US$1 billion directly to the United Nations, but he was informed the morning before his announcement that the United Nations, for legal reasons, was unable to accept money from individuals.

In order to administer his gift, he set up the United Nations Foundation, a US-based public charity. The goal of the foundation, as Turner described in his 1997 speech, was to support the humanitarian and development work that UN agencies were already doing--projects like aiding refugees, clearing land mines, and vaccinating children.

Several months later, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP) to serve as the interface between the UN system and the UN Foundation. …

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