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Public-Private Partnerships for Innovation

2012

Public-private partnership is not a new concept, nor idea: it has been widely used for many years in different sectors, in different forms and for different purposes. But its widespread use for innovation, the scope of this publication, is a relatively new phenomenon.

In tomorrow’s world, the distinction between the public and private domains becomes almost meaningless. Government may provide, but increasingly needs private enterprise to deliver. And private companies can only capture economic value by creating social value first. The reason is simple: a product, service or process must actually be used to relieve or resolve a social challenge to have a value that can be appropriated by companies that (help) develop and deliver it. This typically involves approval and regulation by public authorities, delivery over public infrastructure, and payment at least in part from the public coffers.

There is another reason why public and private parties need each other: the world’s problems can only be solved through innovation. We cannot meet tomorrow's food demand, which is double what it is today, with today’s agricultural practices. We will have to think of new ways to grow tougher crops with higher yields in arid conditions. Similarly, we cannot hope to meet steadily growing energy demand, curb carbon emissions or preserve the quality of air, soil and water without breakthrough new technologies. Not only that, we will also need new business models to pay for their use – through public and private contributions. Such innovation is beyond the skill, scope, scale and resources of a single company, NGO, university or government. It is the stuff of public-private partnership.

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