Why Partner?

Over time, public and private actors have learned that they have much to gain by leveraging each other’s comparative advantage to achieve mutually beneficial goals through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). 1Governments charged with safeguarding the health of their populations are well aware that health is determined by a range of factors that fall outside the responsibility or control of the health system. Distribution of wealth, access to clean water, availability of nutritious food, mitigation of environmental risk factors, and strong education systems are all closely linked with population health outcomes.To address health challenges effectively on a broad scale requires that all stakeholders come to the table, including farmers, drug companies, environmental regulators, financial institutions, educators, and policymakers at all levels of government.

Businesses have realized that they, too, have much to gain from participating in PPPs—particularly as globalization has heightened consumer awareness and corporate social responsibility has emerged as an inescapable priority for business leaders in every country. In addition to responding to society’s demands, businesses have found that acting in a socially responsible manner has benefits in the marketplace, including increased brand recognition, greater loyalty and advocacy behaviors among company stakeholders, and even preferential treatment by consumers. In fact, a 2007 study found that 87 percent of American consumers are likely to change brands if the other brand is associated with a good cause.2

A report published by Tanzania’s Economic Social and Research Foundation concluded last year that, “public-private partnership is the best policy option for improving health service delivery in the country."  3 However, there remain a number of questions about the role of PPPs in the health sector. While providing opportunity for mutual benefit, the oversight of public private partnerships comes with some inherent challenges due to the conflicting incentive structures of public and for-profit entities. Many of the challenges that the public health field labors to address are closely linked to, or may even be a direct consequence of, activities conducted by private actors. Pollution, for example, can only be remedied by limiting the actions of businesses, whose mandate is to generate profit. Understanding these perspectives, PPPs must achieve a careful balance between harnessing the innovation and resources of the private sector, while providing a beneficial outcome for the greater good—in this case, improved health.

  • 1. Reich MR, ed. Public-Private Partnerships for Public Health. Cambridge: Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, distributed by Harvard University Press, 2002.  
  • 2. Du, Shuili, C.B. Bhattacharya, Sankar Sen. 2010. Maximizing Business Returns to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): The Role of CSR Communication. International Journal of Management Reviews 12(1): 8-19;
  • 3. Itika, Josephat, Oswald Mashindano, Flora Kessy. 2011. Success and Constraints for improving public private partnership in health services delivery in Tanzania. ESRF Discussion Paper No. 36. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: The Economic and Social Research Foundation.

 Background Resources

Closing the Gap in a Generation:
Health equity through action on the social determinants of health: Read the final report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health of WHO, published in 2008.



Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School presents at CECP's Corporate Philanthropy Summit on June 2, 2010 on  "Creating Shared Value" (CSV) as distinct from "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR).