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Investment Policy Blog

“Cigarettes: good for the digestion, help avoid tempting sweets and give you pep!…”

Remember the good old days?

Remember when cigarettes were good for you, when we didn’t read food labels, when only biochemists were familiar with the word “cholesterol”. It is more difficult now, we have to ask ourselves all these obnoxious questions, to understand more about how things work, where the risks are, how we should live, but the benefit of asking these questions is huge – longer life, better life, fewer hospital visits …

In PPP, we need to ask more questions. For example, we rarely ask ourselves how our PPP projects and the services they deliver are tailored to the needs and context of specific, often under-represented, groups like women, or the poor. Yet, when these groups benefit, demand goes up, revenues increase, projects are more sustainable and less vulnerable to political vagaries.

I understand why we don’t like questions. Not only do we need answers, but, like in Jeopardy, we need to know the right questions to ask. Engaging with under-represented communities requires different approaches. Literacy levels may vary, or fluency in common languages. Delivering services can require different methodologies, for example using simple technology for service delivery, billing and collection; payment in advance in small amounts and frequently can help. Access to cheap and “patient” financing may be needed, for example where connection to services is costly.

Even if we know the right questions, maybe we hope someone else is focusing on these issues and will answer for us (investors often consider these to be government issues, while governments often assume the private investor will consider such operational issues). The key here is incentives. A private investor may focus on pro-poor or pro-women PPPs out of the goodness of its heart, or as corporate social responsibility (CSR). But a private investor will definitely focus on these issues if incentives are aligned. Put bluntly, a private investor will do what they are paid to do, so pay them to deliver services that are pro-women and pro-poor, that align with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Development partners play an important role in helping public and private alike to focus on pro-poor PPPs. For this reason, we are rightly criticized when projects do not adopt a sufficiently pro-poor focus. Some work has been done on pro-poor PPPs, for example the UNECE’s SDG focused 4Ps, UNESCAP’s 5Ps; the Global Infrastructure Hub and the World Bank Group has gathered best practice on gender and pro-poor PPPs [http://ppp.worldbank.org]. But we need to do more, we need better guidance on how to implement PPP that are pro-women, pro-poor. The World Bank is currently reviewing lessons learned and the questions that need to be asked during feasibility studies, when designing PPP agreements and when implementing PPP projects. We plan to develop a practical tool to ensure PPP projects adopt these best practices, or at least ask the right question.

“I’ll take “sustainability” for 500, please, Alex.”

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