OPINION: HOT ISSUE - Should NGOs and businesses co-operate to help the poor?

Many NGOs have signed up to partnerships with businesses in order to deliver water, energy, sanitation, health and diversity projects in developing countries. Should they avoid these deals or are they the only real way to help the poor? Do these tie-ups put charities in danger of subverting their development agendas?

Dr Daleep Mukarji, director, Christian Aid - NO

The responsibility for the delivery of essential services in developing countries is mainly with governments. They need to be supported to do this efficiently and especially to reach the poor.

Multinational companies could play a part in public services but since they essentially do this for profit I would be concerned whether their benefits would reach the poor. Giving contracts to multinationals could also mean that local companies may not be encouraged to deliver essential services.

It is important to build local capacity. NGOs should work to empower local communities to get better services and to participate in the decisions that affect their future. NGOs need to influence government policies in the public sector so that they benefit the marginalised.

There is a role for the private sector in developing countries. But tying up with them in the delivery of vital services is not in the interest of NGOs who want to speak for or serve the very poor. Governments must not abdicate their responsibility for vital public sector services.

Steve Tibbett, head of policy, War on Want - NO

Ninety-five per cent of the world's water is supplied by the public sector, yet if you read World Bank advice, you would think that the typical way to provide essential services is through the private firms. Only a few French and British companies have any expertise in providing water, yet public-private partnerships have become the catchphrase of the new development paradigm.

Of course businesses have a role to play in getting water and electricity to the poor, and NGOs and trade unions should be there to ensure that the worst excesses are avoided, but if we are serious about addressing people's basic needs there are no quick fixes. Using the private sector to supply the poor cannot work, because by definition the poor have no money and companies have a bottom line.

The amount we Europeans spend on ice cream, $11 billion a year, would fund water and sanitation supply to those who currently don't have access. The scarcest commodity is political will; no private firms will deliver that, whatever the price.

Francis Sullivan, director of programmes, WWF-UK - YES

Multinationals bring investment and expertise unlikely to be available in a developing country. However, the relationship with the NGO has to be unambiguous; the NGO is there to openly counsel the multinational and support the recipient country. It is not there just to provide credibility or to make it easier for the multinational to do business.

All too often, multinationals have created environmental damage and done little to alleviate poverty. Tie-ups with NGOs need to be transparent with clear targets and timetables for implementation, otherwise the NGO and the business can be accused of "greenwashing". Governments also need to create the legal and fiscal framework in which the partnerships can deliver results.

WWF believes that real improvements can be made from the right partnership but in many cases a business needs to take action to reduce its effects on poor people and the planet first to show that it is serious about helping poor countries.

Fiona King, private sector adviser, Save the Children UK - NO

In principle, governments hold the responsibility for guaranteeing that all children have access to essential services.

However, given the state of essential service provision in many poor countries, we have a situation now where public private partnerships (PPPs) are seen as the main solution to delivering basic services and this may be better than no service at all. Private provision of health and education services can be of high quality, but the cost can prevent the poor from benefiting.

Our principle concern regarding PPPs is how conflicts of interest are managed when the for-profit and public sector work together and whether the PPPs can meet the public health needs of vulnerable and poor groups over the long term.

We would like to see governments able and willing to prioritise investment in essential services which meet children's rights to health and education, and for governments to be in the driving seat on regulation and delivery of essential service provision.

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