Partnerships in practice: power and inequality in development partnerships with the private sector
Jessica Sklair (University of Cambridge)
Jo-Anna Russon (University of Nottingham)
Jason Hart (University of Bath)
Andrew Bowman (University of Edinburgh)
Impactful development?
Berrill Theatre
Thursday 20 June, 14:15-15:45, 16:15-17:45 (UTC+0)

Short abstract:

Hosted by the DSA Business and Development Study Group, this panel will explore issues of power and inequality in development partnerships with the private sector. What challenges emerge for successful and equitable private sector partnerships, and how can these be mitigated in practice?

Long abstract:

One aspect of this year's conference theme on 'opening up development' is the growing trend for international development to 'open up' to engagement with the private sector. This DSA Business and Development Study Group panel will explore issues of inequality and power in partnerships between private, state and third sector actors, asking how these issues can be mitigated to make such partnerships both equitable and successful for all.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals highlight partnerships with the private sector through Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals, citing opportunities including sharing of skills and resources; access to private sector assets and expertise and the generation of shared value. Such partnerships include corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects; philanthropic programmes; social investment and enterprise initiatives; large-scale multi-partner alliances and traditional private-public partnerships (PPPs).

The notion of partnership within international development, however, has a longer history, with earlier academic focus placed on partnerships between international and local development agencies. This work drew attention to asymmetries of power between international and local 'partners', with 'partnership' found to be a hollow notion in many settings where local organisations were little more than contractees. This panel will revisit these debates, asking how new private sector involvement enables or further undermines efforts to achieve meaningful partnership between development actors at different levels. How do mechanisms such as CSR, sustainable development strategies, ethics and compliance functions contribute to the distribution of power in partnerships with the private sector? What new possibilities and challenges emerge for such partnerships in practice?