Navigating the Opportunities and Risks of Partnering for Social Development

Can Companies Manage Risk Through Partnership?
May 23, 2016 10:30 AM ET

Partnerships are intended to de-risk a project, but carry risks of their own,” Judy Brown, the Chief Advisor for External Affairs in the East Pacific and Latin America at Rio Tinto and a veteran of field-level sustainability work, advised a group of 15 students in the Georgetown Master of Science in Foreign Service program. For both the public and private sector, the advent of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) make partnerships that catalyze the development of local markets especially important. Brown had joined Whitney Shinkle, a senior advisor to Bancroft Global Development, and me to speak with my class on public-private partnerships about the ethics, risks, and benefits of partnering with local governments and NGOs, something large companies are increasingly being called on to do.

Good will and shared objectives are rarely enough to make such partnerships successful. Risks abound. Collaboration between partners who often speak a different language, function with different incentive structures, and are held accountable to different interests is a complex undertaking. Understanding the risks helps to set the right expectations and create a stronger foundation of partnership.

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