With COVID-19 continuing to impact communities and economies worldwide, an accelerating climate crisis, and rising global food insecurity, President Biden faces a litany of foreign aid and global development challenges that the public sector cannot solve alone.
Companies have emerged as critical partners for development impact worldwide. Private sector collaboration is increasingly a key pillar in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) approach to global development and foreign aid. We see this in our private sector engagement (PSE) activities with USAID, in the emergence of USAID’s PSE Hub, and in USAID’s transformational PSE Policy, presented as an "Agency-wide call to action, and a mandate to work hand-in-hand with the private sector to design and deliver [USAID’s] development and humanitarian programs across all sectors."
We believe that the next four years under the Biden administration present enormous opportunities to scale cross-sector partnerships and increase engagement and collaboration between the public and private sectors on issues ranging from COVID-19 to climate action.
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We’ve seen firsthand how, together, USAID and the private sector can combine resources, networks, technical expertise, and technologies to kickstart innovation, unlock new markets, crowd-in additional private- and public-sector financing, and accelerate progress on shared challenges threatening companies and communities alike.
Meanwhile, for their part, forward-looking companies recognize that effective and contextually relevant partnerships are essential to tackling complex challenges in the communities where they source and sell, helping them address and achieve company targets aligned to the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With a 12% increase in USAID’s budget under the Biden administration, we see four key areas primed for cross-sector partnerships over the coming years: global health, climate change, internet access and digital skills, and transforming the global food system.
Below, across each of these critical areas, we’ll explore specific partnership avenues, as well as recent examples of how USAID, companies, and other cross-sector actors have collaborated to scale impact.
Interested in how to actually get these partnerships off the ground? Check out the end of this paper for practical partnership resources, guides, and next steps.
From the global pandemic to Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea to the interruption of communicable and non-communicable disease treatment during the COVID crisis, global health will be at the center of the Biden administration’s agenda.
For example, on February 19, at the G7 summit, President Biden announced that the United States would provide $2 billion to the COVID-19 Global Access Facility (COVAX), an innovative financing mechanism to deliver safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to 92 low- and middle-income economies. At the same summit, President Biden also called on the global community to provide similar financial support for vaccine distribution, and he reiterated the United States’ commitment to advancing global health security.
The private sector plays a critical role in realizing global health goals: Over the past year, we’ve seen companies channel tremendous levels of R&D into vaccine development; modify work policies to comply with public health needs; and reinvent their supply chains, manufacturing, and product lines to meet urgent global health needs. Looking forward, companies in the health sector and beyond will continue to be valuable partners to advance global health access and outcomes.
Past Collaboration: Uncovering Private Sector Innovations for Improved Health Systems
In 2019, USAID launched an open innovation competition, the Inclusive Health Access Prize, to uncover and recognize private sector solutions to improve accountability, affordability, accessibility, and reliability of healthcare in emerging markets. The prize focused on context-smart solutions to improve local health systems, in collaboration with the local public sector. The prize awarded five winners from Cameroon, India, Nigeria, and Senegal, with innovations ranging from online blood banks to “Uber” for ambulances.
Active Collaboration: Deploying Blended Finance for Health
The World Bank and USAID, together with other donors, NGOs, and Merck for Mothers have joined forces through the Global Financing Facility (GFF), a blended-finance mechanism dedicated to eliminating preventable maternal, child, and adolescent deaths. This multi-stakeholder global partnership, originally established in 2015, provides catalytic financing and technical assistance to 36 low- and lower-middle-income countries and has helped mobilize more than $2 billion in private capital.
President Biden wasted little time signaling the importance of addressing climate change during his term in office. Within hours of his Inauguration, President Biden issued an executive order for the U.S. to rejoin the Paris Agreement, and, in late April, he further announced a new target for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52%, based on 2005 levels, by 2030. Biden further positioned “climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.”
Meeting domestic and global climate goals will require substantial investment, innovation, and collaboration across sectors, industries, and borders.
Past Collaboration: Engaging the Local Private Sector for Climate Adaptation and Disaster Preparedness
The USAID Climate Economic Analysis for Development, Investment, and Resilience (CEADIR) project worked with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to establish 10 public-private partnerships with local companies in India, focused on climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Across four Indian cities, local companies and the public sector came together to reduce flood risks through better solid waste management, shape municipal strategies for disaster risk reduction, boost emergency response operations, map critical community facilities and evacuation routes, rehabilitate community shelters, and increase urban resilience to extreme heat events.
Active Collaboration (non-USAID): Mobilizing Climate Finance
In April 2021, the U.S. government’s International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) announced interest in co-investing with private finance partners in funds targeting strategies and solutions for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency in emerging markets. The DFC has also recently committed to elevating climate-focused investment to 33% of the agency’s new investments by 2023.
Active Collaboration: Partnering to Scale Clean Energy in Africa
The U.S. government, including USAID, is working with more than 150 companies on Power Africa to mobilize and direct over $40 billion in investment for Africa’s energy sector, with the overarching goal of developing 30,000 megawatts of cleaner energy and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.
Globally, approximately 45% of people still lack broadband access. The pandemic underscored the impacts of this digital divide: without reliable and affordable access to the internet, children and adults miss out on critical opportunities to learn, work, and compete in the 21st century.
Around the world, access to the internet and basic digital skills will be essential catalysts for progress—spanning sectors ranging from health to education to workforce development and economic growth and diversification. And, conversely, without access to the internet, there will be severe limits on social and economic change. In today’s economy, this is an essential building block for progress.
It’s a critical area for companies as well: Businesses thrive where customers and suppliers are equipped to engage in the digital economy, and participation in today’s global workforce increasingly demands digital skills.
Past Collaboration: Co-investing in Critical Infrastructure After Ebola
In 2017, USAID partnered with CSquared to co-invest in high-speed metro fiber communications infrastructure in Monrovia, Liberia, in the aftermath of the Ebola outbreak—expanding Internet connectivity to government offices, clinics, and businesses.
Active Collaboration: Open Innovation to Expand Women’s Digital Access
USAID’s WomenConnect Challenge is a global call for solutions to close the gender gap in digital connectivity and improve women’s access to technology. Between 2018 and 2021, the program has issued three challenge rounds, as well as a focused initiative in India, seeking innovators with bold new solutions to facilitate women’s access to the internet and digital technology in emerging markets. The third challenge round specifies that applications must include a private sector partner, to ensure long-term sustainability and to seed greater private sector collaboration on the gender digital divide.
Active Collaboration: Global Alliance to Reduce the Cost of Connectivity
The Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) brings together businesses, governments, and civil society actors to shape policy and local action to reduce the cost of Internet access worldwide. Cross-sector national coalitions work on the ground to advance new solutions and overcome barriers to affordable internet access. (USAID was an early partner on A4AI.)
Active Collaboration: Digital Skills for Women Entrepreneurs
In March 2021, the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) launched a new partnership with Microsoft to help women entrepreneurs and women-led small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) grow their businesses through better access to, and understanding of, digital skills and technologies. Together, the partners will create a Women’s Data Lab and Network (WDLN) in Côte d’Ivoire, with the goal to eventually scale the concept to other African countries. The WDLN—with funding from USAID—will create and connect an e-community of women entrepreneurs and women-led SMEs to digital skills training through Microsoft 4Afrika’s SME-focused program.
Since COVID-19 began, the United Nations has sounded the alarm on the looming humanitarian disaster that is hunger, food insecurity, and child malnutrition. Before COVID-19 struck, eliminating hunger was already on the shortlist of foreign aid and development priorities. Despite the global community stepping up last year to provide record donations, UN experts expect 2021 to be worse.
Meanwhile, around the world, companies, the public sector, and other organizations are increasingly warning that our current food system is unsustainable. From plastics in the ocean to soil degradation to tens of billions of pounds of food waste each year: Cross-sector collaboration will be essential to shaping a food system that can sustainably feed 10 billion people.
Past Collaboration: Piloting Innovations for Seafood Traceability
USAID partnered with international seafood supplier Anova Seafood; MDPI, an Indonesian foundation focused on sustainable fisheries; and an Indonesian tuna processor to develop and implement an internal traceability system for use by Indonesian tuna processors—a critical link in global seafood supply chains. The partners created TraceTales to allow tuna processors to electronically capture, store, and manage seafood product data. Through the adoption of TraceTales, the local supplier digitizes their entire catch documentation process, tracking seafood products as they move through the value chain. Local suppliers can now meet U.S. Seafood Import Monitoring Program requirements, increase the pace and accuracy of their data capture and business calculations, and reduce product recalls and waste. TraceTales also supports verification of Fair-Trade certification.
Active Collaboration: Expanding Market Opportunity for Zambian Farmers
In 2020, USAID launched a 3-year partnership with Corteva Agriscience, John Deere, and Global Communities. Together, the partners will leverage over $37 million to help ten thousand Zambian farmers access new market opportunities and enhance resilience through increased productivity, better inputs, and sustainable farming practices. Specifically, Corteva Agriscience will work directly with farmers to support the adoption of hybrid seeds, crop protection technologies, and sustainable farming practices. John Deere will create new service provision models to help farmers access the agricultural equipment they need to increase on-farm productivity and efficiency. And USAID and Global Communities will work to provide farmers critical training, access to finance, and market linkages.
Active Collaboration: Investing in Women Across Global Supply Chains
In June 2020, PepsiCo and USAID launched the Investing in Women to Strengthen Supply Chains partnership to prove the business case for women’s economic empowerment and show how elevating women in supply chains can lead to greater growth, profitability, and sustainability. USAID and PepsiCo will work together to strengthen women’s agricultural skills and access to resources within PepsiCo’s supply chains to demonstrate the value of women’s contributions to core business and impact goals. Together, the partners will provide evidence-based models, new on-farm approaches, and data and insights to make a practical and compelling business case for scaling investments in women’s economic empowerment within PepsiCo and other global companies.
The world faces enormous challenges that will demand commitment, determination, innovation, and ambitious cross-sector collaboration. The good news: We’ve heard from, and worked with, an ever-growing number of private- and public-sector partners who are ready and eager to collaborate to tackle today’s greatest development and global business challenges.
In the Biden era, we see significant opportunities for companies and USAID to collaborate for impact. However, opportunity means little without action. For companies looking for clear next steps—and the tools to get there—we’ve assembled a list of helpful partnership resources, pulling from our experience designing and implementing over 300 cross-sector partnerships. Below, you’ll find accessible guidance on how to identify high-impact opportunities, design successful cross-sector partnerships, and manage and scale collaboration with success.
We look forward to supporting both companies and USAID on the road ahead, as we work together to solve shared challenges and forge new opportunities.
Next Steps to Get Started: Cross-Sector Partnership Resources
Want to know more about how companies can engage in cross-sector collaboration to solve complex challenges? Contact James Bernard or Steve Pelliccia to discuss further.
An internationally recognized expert on multi-stakeholder partnerships, with more than 25 years of experience, James built and leads Resonance’s global impact advisory practice focused on corporate, foundation, and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners, with clients that include PepsiCo, Cargill, Unilever, Microsoft, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the European Climate Foundation.
Steve Pelliccia brings more than 25 years of global development experience across a range of sectors including economic growth, natural resource management, and governance. Before joining Resonance, Steve served in senior leadership positions in the US and overseas with organizations including USAID, Chemonics International, and Abt Associates. Steve leads the firm’s growing portfolio of projects and programs with USAID, the U.S. Department of State, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.