Joe Phelan and Olive Boles: 10 ways to engage the private sector in health

By Joe Phelan and Olive Boles, International Business Leaders Forum

10 ways to engage the private sector in health

Investing in the health of women and children is not only the right thing to do, it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies. It reduces poverty, stimulates economic growth, is cost-effective and crucially, helps women and children realise their fundamental human rights.

In September last year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched “Every Woman Every Child” – The Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health – a plan to save the lives of millions of women and children.

“Every Women Every Child” emphasises the need for multi-sector collaboration. In response, IBLF convened cross-sector dialogues in London and New Delhi in 2010 and following this activity, authored a primer report to provide a framework for all sectors to use as a basis for private sector engagement and to highlight, in particular, some of the innovation coming from South Asia.

Here, we suggest ten practical actions for all stakeholders, to promote greater and more effective engagement of companies in accelerating progress on maternal and child health.

Companies should:

1. Engage in maternal and child health through the core of the business by: building internal understanding of the relevant national health plan(s); developing a robust business case for action, and bringing the company’s core competence to bear on health challenges.

2. Develop partnerships for maternal and child health as a means to: achieve social, investment objectives; meet sustainability commitments; reach new markets in developing countries; and creatively build on existing activities in areas which increase access to health through goods and services or promote health education and awareness.

3. Advocate for business engagement with the Global Strategy among the wider business community, by: referring to these partnerships during presentations to mainstream business audiences; and strengthening the public policy framework formaternal and child health during discussions with governments, NGOs and funding agencies.

NGOs should:

4. Think creatively about the role that the private sector: as a potential partner can bring to partnerships, looking not just at financial resources, but the wider range of attributes.

5. Promote a culture of transparency and accountability, by: verifying the impacts of partnerships and interventions, providing opportunities for vulnerable groups to engage directly with policy decisions, and being transparent themselves.

Governments should:

6. Consider how the private sector can be an active partner in maternal & child health, bringing skills that are not readily available in NGOs or government agencies.

7. Work with other sectors to create strong regulation and safeguards – recognizing that health markets can create conflicts of interest.

All sectors should

8. Integrate monitoring and evaluation processes fully into project design.

9. Have an open mind when entering into dialogue with other sectors in relation to maternal & child health. Misperceptions exist in all organisations – particularly as this is an emotional subject and elicits strong views – and these can act as an obstacle to collaboration.

10. Invest in partnering capacity for scaling up pilots.

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