September 13, 2017 | By Holly Copeland

Enhancing Communities through Public-Private Partnerships

When a community must address an issue that impacts the health, safety or quality of life for its neighbors, where is the best place to look for help? Is it the government or academic institutions? Perhaps it’s nonprofit organizations. Or maybe hope lies with local businesses.  Increasingly, for many issues that impact our world today, the answer is: all of the above. 

In today’s interconnected environment, cooperation between government, businesses, academia, and not-for-profit organizations is imperative if we want to effectively address societal challenges and help build stronger communities. Public entities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for example, may be in the best position to identify certain service or infrastructure needs within a community.  These organizations may have pre-established, direct relationships with the people in need or with other community groups already providing services.  Those embedded in a community have a deeper understanding of what that community needs and have a keen sense for determining appropriate solutions to address those needs. But, there’s a caveat. Public entities and NGOs may not have the necessary resources to offer full-scale assistance. And that is where the private sector can help fill the gap. 

Companies that are resource-rich want to give back to the communities they serve, but they may not be in a position to fully understand the extent of any given community’s challenges, nor have the critical relationships to implement solutions at a local level. Financial support is often a highly necessary, immediate contribution that many public entities look to the private sector to provide. But that is only one aspect of the many resources corporate America has to offer. Private enterprise can also bring new technologies, technical efficiency, innovation, human capital, operational expertise and sometimes even physical assets to the problem-solving table. This creates an opportunity for aligning strengths with weaknesses; to combine efforts in an effort to achieve a shared, desired community benefit. 

In the last several weeks, our country has been hit with several natural disasters. The area of disaster preparedness and relief highlights the critical need for public-private partnerships.

When disaster strikes, federal, state and local governments, humanitarian relief organizations, and the business community mobilize and collaborate together at the highest levels. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for example, has a longstanding approach to disaster management that engages the private sector at every stage – including risk mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery.  FEMA has continually referenced the benefits of effective public-private partnerships in disaster situations, including enhanced situational awareness, improved decision making, access to more resources, expanded reach for communications, and improved coordination, among others.

And while you may see FEMA representatives or local law enforcement serving as spokespeople on the news, behind the scenes there is truly a group effort among public and private organizations of all sizes all working to ensure that people have access to the healthcare and vital items they need. Some of the most critical infrastructure in this country – banking, communications, energy – are managed by private-sector companies, and their involvement in times of disaster at all levels is crucial. 

Additionally, businesses often have sophisticated infrastructure and expertise in supply chain, distribution, and logistics that can play an important role during relief and recovery efforts. They make products people need, they know how to forecast inventory, and they know how to get things to people quickly. Many businesses are also large employers and citizens in impacted communities, and have a vested stake in supporting these efforts to help their neighbors and colleagues. 

I work at Horizon Pharma, a biopharmaceutical company that develops medicines for patients – many of them with rare diseases. A large majority of them are children. Partnering with NGOs to provide relief funds, as well as helping people get the critical medicine and nutritional products they need during a disaster is very important to us. Collaboration with a health-focused relief organization like Americares, which has decades of global disaster relief experience and can deliver healthcare where and when it is needed most, is often the most efficient and effective way to reach people in need of health-related supplies and services. That’s why we partner with them during disasters and on other programs of impact throughout the year. Working with Americares gives us the ability to mobilize our employees to give, to facilitate a corporate match, and then to have those donations directed quickly to the organizations in need.

Public-private partnerships are the gold standard in addressing fundamental societal challenges around the globe, from infrastructure to clean water to healthcare and beyond. Only when the public and private sectors work together to create innovative and integrated solutions can we best serve our communities and our citizens.

Horizon Pharma is the lead sponsor of the Council's Global Health and Development Symposium on September 22. Learn more or register to attend.

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.

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