As dense hubs of diverse talent, skills and innovation, cities are perfect places for public-private collaboration. In light of urgent calls from the international community for solutions, the wealth of creativity and expertise on urban sustainability in Global South cities can and must be supported. Solutions are already being implemented and can inspire action in cities with similar contexts.
However, while examples of public-private collaboration are well documented in the Global North, this is not often the case in the Global South. Information is often difficult to access because practices are not documented or fail to receive acknowledgment.
In speaking to city officials, leaders in the private sector and academics in 30 cities to develop the UrbanShift guide on public-private collaboration for cities in the Global South, we learned about various collaborations taking place across diverse sectors and players. With the proper support and resources, there is great potential for these to be further unlocked.
No Collaboration Is Too Small
One of the distinctive features of collaborations happening across Africa, Asia and Latin America is that they exist across a wide spectrum, from very large capital projects to smaller experiments and partnerships. In fact, sometimes it is in the smaller examples that the greatest potential for replicability lies.
Dhaka, for instance, set up a scheme with a local telecommunications company that mandated the company provide public services in exchange for allowing the company to build communications towers on public land. This essential company infrastructure provides Wi-Fi and lighting for all residents and will soon host a network of air quality sensors.
Kigali also shows how leveraging public assets can create private and public benefits. After building the largest car-free zone in Rwanda’s capital, the municipality realized the space was not being utilized as often as they hoped – or needed. As a solution, the city opted to hire an events management company to activate the space. Now the city can use profits generated by the space’s events to maintain the car-free zone.
Models of Collaboration
Governments and businesses are not monolithic. Just as there are diverse departments within city administrations, businesses are driven by a variety of incentives which only sometimes align with the public good.
The most well-known model through which cities and businesses work, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), is just one of many employed. Cities in the Global South engage the private sector through other forms of collaboration including policymaking, networking, enabling innovation through incubation or training, and even leveraging international funding to foster public-private collaboration at the local level.
In some instances, this requires focusing on very specific interventions that align with the private actor’s focus; as is the case of Bangkok, where the city worked with a mixed-ownership company called PPP Plastic on a waste management pilot.
It can, however, also mean creating broad platforms that welcome diverse voices. Take for instance the Buenos Aires Circular Economy Network. Led by two city departments: “Urban Hygiene and Public Space” and “Local Economic Development,” they convene large local companies, as well as universities, professional bodies and non-profit organizations. The network became so popular that membership even had to be halted. The city is now designing a new circular economy policy informed by the network.
Cities Can Shape Local Markets To Be More Sustainable Through Collaboration
Achieving such collaborations requires focusing on concrete actions and outputs, showing value to all stakeholders, maximizing financial and non-financial resources, and demonstrating long-term commitment. Those tactics may sound simple, but they require fully invested individuals to see them through. In doing so cities have significant potential to influence the sustainability of urban economies.
Lagos illustrates how creating a climate action plan for its city can be done without following models from European or North American cities. Indeed, it designed its own strategy to engage companies in the energy, waste and water sectors. What came to be known as “Climate Change Business Meetings” not only helped strengthen relationships but served as signals to the private sector of where the city currently prioritizes investment so they can prepare accordingly.
And Rio de Janeiro developed a local incubation program that has enabled almost a dozen small sustainability-focused startups to grow while benefiting the city directly. Startups are chosen through a bi-annual competition and the winner receives access to all data from the City’s Operations Centre for two years.
Maximizing Collaboration to Face the Climate Crisis
This is just the beginning. More can be done, not just to document existing practices but to exchange ideas and replicate these public-private collaboration models in other parts of the world.
It is imperative to facilitate conversations, learning and information sharing across these geographic contexts. Cities that are similar in size, budget and socioeconomic contexts are more likely to be able to adapt and adopt similar solutions. City leaders, businesses and other stakeholders can see what’s possible, compare notes and share inspiring ideas.
We need not wait for the perfect conditions to be available. Imperfect, but real, solutions are already being proven and tested in cities with less than perfect opportunities and conditions. In facing the climate crisis, these may be the most important yet.
Marcela Guerrero Casas is Co-founder of Local South.
Dustin Kramer is Co-founder of Local South.
Emily White is Manager of City-Business Engagement at C40 Cities.