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CSO-business partnerships for development: Key insights

Briefing Note 94

November 2016

Medinilla, A., Karaki, K. 2016. CSO-business partnerships for development: Key insights. (Briefing Note 94). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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Multi-stakeholder partnerships, particularly those involving the private sector and civil society organisations (CSO), are gaining increasing attention. This is even more so in view of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (2015), which emphasise the importance of the private sector in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

At the same time there is no uniform understanding between and even within the partnership community as to what constitutes a CSO-business partnership, why and how these forms of cross-sector cooperation may be beneficial for development, or even what it means to support or promote CSO-business cooperation. Depending on who you talk to, a CSO-business partnership can mean anything ranging from the smallest private charity to a global network for transforming business operations.

The main appeal is that certain varieties of CSO-business partnerships can offer potential benefits for promoting economic transformation on a critical or even sector-level scale, primarily when they link commercially, market-driven investment projects and private sector know-how that can contribute to creating more and better jobs, with socially-grounded, networked approaches of CSOs whose primary aim is to promote inclusive development within a given location.

Brokering, promoting, supporting and maintaining effective partnerships, however is a complex and iterative process that requires considerable financial resources, knowledge and time. Without such investment, the developmental impact of this trend may well remain wishful thinking.


Key messages


  • Multi-stakeholder partnerships, particularly involving the private sector and CSOs, are gaining increasing attention in light of the 2030 Agenda commitments. But brokering, promoting, supporting and maintaining effective partnerships is a complex, iterative and resource-consuming process.
  • Donor agencies seeking to support and promote CSO-business partnerships must pay more attention to the drivers and constraints of such partnerships.
  • Partnerships must take the following 6 insights into account:
    1. Strategic and transformational partnerships are less common than other forms of partnerships.
    2. Policy makers and practitioners can do more than fund partnerships.
    3. The many variations of partnerships require a diversified approach to supporting them.
    4. Instrumentalisation and power imbalances need to be overcome.
    5. An integrated, territorial approach to CSO-business cooperation is crucial to ensure potential for transformational change.
    6. Long-term change requires long-term investment.
  • Getting from a partnership to tangible development results requires development partners to deal with this complexity, and equip themselves beyond what they currently can do.

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Photo courtesy World Bank

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