Lessons Learned from Private Sector Engagement
- Clear roles. It's critical to have clear roles for project partners. Sometimes they may not be clear from the beginning of the project (as in Biolan’s case), but can evolve and crystallise after the project has commenced. It is also good that the roles are discussed, developed and agreed together along the way, and all partners find their role important and meaningful. This way there is more ownership of the project from the partner’s side. Over time, when the project advances and partners learn more of each other and the context, the roles can evolve to mutually agreed directions. The participation of the Ugandan companies was less active. The time spent to build relationships with them was not sufficient. Their roles and expectations were not clearly defined or mutually agreed with all project partners, which left the SMEs role and ownership of the project somewhat weak.
- Time for partnership building. It is important to allocate enough time for informal partnership building. This is especially true when the partners come from different sectors (NGO, university, private sector) and backgrounds (Finland, Uganda). Language used, thinking patterns and expectations may not be automatically shared between the partners. If not enough time is spent for mutual sharing, partners may not even find out that they have differing views and expectations on the course of the project. Therefore, it is essential to have sufficient time also for unstructured conversations.
- Managing expectations. One of the reasons why the partnership between UNICEF and Biolan turned out to be successful was due to good management of expectations. The collaboration with Biolan started with mutual curiosity to try out something new. Biolan was not promised anything and therefore their expectations were merely to get a learning experience. The key is that Biolan was not expecting “quick wins” from the project and therefore there were no disappointments. Biolan did not expect to tie quick business deals during the trips, but concentrated on the project activities and broader learning. External funding helped to manage expectations in Biolan’s regard: Biolan provided the project with expertise pro bono, but all other expenses (like travel costs) were covered from the project budget.
- Type of funding. The type of external funding and what it can be used for is important in developing the roles and managing expectations. If partnering organisations have to cover a big part of the expenses (staff time, travel costs etc.) on their own, their expectations rise and become more results-oriented for their own organisation’s benefit. Simultaneously, if the funding covers most of the expenses, the partners can focus more on creating joint/shared results for the project. It is thus important not to undermine the importance of funding, what expectations it brings along, and how the availability of funding to cover expenses affects roles and responsibilities between partners.
- Product development / innovations. It became clear that it takes a long time to create new products/innovations from scratch (background research, ideation, fine tuning ideas, developing prototypes, testing technical aspects and usability, further development of the concepts etc.). Perhaps non-profit organisations and universities can feed in ideas to the private sector, but it is most likely not worth the effort to start developing new products/innovations on their own. Private sector is in the best position to develop prototypes from ideas to scale. They have the facilities, expertise and resources for doing this in an efficient manner.
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