Public-Private Partnerships: Combining Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Service |

Public-Private Partnerships: Combining Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Service

Policy problems will increasingly involve the provision of different combinations of goods – public, private, common pool resources and hybrids of all three. That is why the old binary dilemma of whether to rely on the state or privatise is obsolete, said Professor Robert Klitgaard from Claremont Graduate School in a lecture moderated by Mr Donald Low, Associate Dean (Research and Executive Education) of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Tapping the strengths of the different sectors

Calling for greater collaboration and partnership among institutions in the public, private and non-profit sectors, Prof Klitgaard cited international examples to illustrate their advantages while spelling out the challenges for the three sectors as well as universities and other agencies that study public policy.

The task for public-private-non-profit partnerships is to figure out how to align different goods involved in an issue with the different sectors and their distinct advantages, said Prof Klitgaard. The private sector has resources, innovation, marketing and the ability to move fast without getting bogged down in bureaucracy. The government sector provides an authorising environment and the legal and policy framework for action. Civil society groups have better knowledge of public demand and can have more influence over public opinion than companies or governments. When all three sectors work together, they can integrate supply sources and mobilise demand for goods to solve social problems.

One example is the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program in San Antonio, Texas, which was grappling with a high drop-out rate among Latino students. Then-mayor Henry Cisneros linked up the company with an NGO that had the unconventional idea of getting teens who were most at risk to tutor younger children, resulting in a successful project where only 2 per cent of participants dropped out.

Another example, the Bangalore NGO Public Affairs Centre, developed citizen report cards on public services that led to the government forming a cross-sector task force to improve governance and service delivery in the city.

Challenges and solutions

However, Prof Klitgaard also highlighted the challenges such partnerships face. First, divergent priorities. Companies, which usually do not have public interest as their first priority, may worry about partnerships turning into a “sinkhole of time”. Governments may be uncomfortable with losing control, while non-profit groups may worry about losing their identity and “selling out” on their original mission.

Second, partnerships sometimes face great difficulty in finding people to lead and manage the initiatives as they require different skill sets from those of a traditional civil servant, private sector manager and activist. This can lead to problems with sustainability and expansion, said Prof Klitgaard. The Coca-Cola project, for instance, has not taken off outside Texas, Atlanta and Brazil despite its success.

Third, corruption, which he called the “wrong kind of collaboration” among sectors. Paradoxically, the solution is even more cross-sector partnerships to fight corruption, he said.

On possible solutions, Prof Klitgaard drew ideas from The Good Collaboration Toolkit, an initiative by psychologists such as Harvard’s Howard Gardner. It emphasises building relationships, common ground and candid communication among partners. Importantly, collaboration has to be “incentive-compatible”, or good for each partner in the currency they use to measure success.

Another idea that has gained ground recently is that public-private-non-profit partnerships need “backbone functions” to succeed and stop inertia from setting in. This includes getting full-time staff to do the necessary day-to-day work like keeping accounts, staffing and convening.

A call for change in teaching and research

Finally, universities and think-tanks have to change the way they teach and do research. Cross-sector partnerships cut across policy areas like health and education, “yet we don’t have enough integration of our concepts across the fields to compare what kinds of devices and municipal management make the most difference in different kinds of partnerships,” said Prof Klitgaard. He also asked if universities are teaching the new skills such partnerships require.

Researchers should draw on partnerships as well to raise the quality and impact of their work. Poverty studies should partner the poor while researchers of communicable diseases should be talking to doctors, nurses and patients on the ground. It is especially crucial to get such direct data in social issues that involve stigma, such as homelessness and HIV. “They can help us figure out what information and analysis people really need, not just some ideal government official or some journal,” said Prof Klitgaard.

Universities can also convene stakeholders to solve problems and form partnerships through the sharing of data, case studies and best principles, he added.

Responding to a question from Mr Low, Prof Klitgaard said Singapore has many public-private partnerships now. But there is room for more collaboration in the areas that the country finds most troubling and where governments may not have good solutions yet, such as housing, social security, old age care and immigration.

On 26 August 2014, Professor Robert Klitgaard from the Claremont Graduate University gave a talk titled “Public-Private Partnerships: Combining Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Service” at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. President of Claremont from 2005-2009, Professor Klitgaard was also a former Dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School and a professor at Yale and Harvard. He advises governments and institutions around the world on economic strategy and institutional reform. Among his nine books are Tropical Gangsters, which was included in ­the New York Times’ Books of the Century, and Choosing Elites, which appears in ­the Harvard Guide to Influential Books. His books Controlling Corruption and Corrupt Cities: A Practical Guide to Cure and Prevention have been translated into 18 languages.


Many of the most important issues facing our region and our world involve partnerships of government, business, and civil society. From health care to education, from ­financial reform to the provision of infrastructure, from grassroots development to international diplomacy, solutions are going beyond the old duality of “leave it to the state” or “privatize it.” But what does “go beyond” mean, and how do we do it?

This talk explores the design and management of public-private partnerships. We examine theoretical approaches from several disciplines and consider some of the most exciting recent examples of successful collaboration. The subject offers the chance to reconsider the meaning and practice of entrepreneurship, leadership, and service.


Prof Robert Klitgaard, Professor at Claremont Graduate University

Tuesday, 26 August 2014
5:15 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Oei Tiong Ham Building,
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy,
469C Bukit Timah Road,
Singapore 259772

Seats are limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Kindly register your interest in attending online.

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