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NUPI skole

Research project

Public–Private Development Interfaces in Ethiopia

Private actors are increasingly operating in the name of development and in partnership with international development actors. This project (DEVINT) will explore the nexus of private actors and publicly funded aid organisations, focusing on how the meanings, processes and mechanisms of development are changing as private actors increasingly enter the domain of international development.


  • Economic growth
  • Globalisation
  • Development policy
  • Foreign policy
  • Africa
  • Human rights
  • Governance
  • International organizations
  • United Nations

Private enterprises, businesses and large corporations have, over the past decade, entered the field of international development on an unprecedented scale. While it was unthinkable and even considered illegitimate for traditional donors to partner with these private, market-driven actors a few years ago, public–private partnerships have now emerged as the new, unquestionable normal. The growing role of the private sector is reflected in the Agenda 2030, which pays due attention to the private sector as both an objective of and a means to implement the audacious SDGs. SDG17 – revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development – specifically underscores how private sector involvement is required to realise the SDGs in poorer countries.

This paradigmatic shift has made an imprint on official development policy globally: in Ethiopia, the government has tapped into this discourse to stimulate the business sector and create job opportunities. In Norway, the shift is reflected in the government’s recent White Paper on development policy and operationalised via Norad’s, its aid agency, new ‘strategic partnership’ programme, which aims to foster greater public–private development partnerships.

While the shift towards increased public–private partnerships is documented in existing literature, it is not clear how the inclusion of private actors has changed the meanings, processes and mechanisms of international development. Through detailed empirical case studies in Ethiopia, DEVINT will map and analyse these changes, the challenges and opportunities they present to development cooperation and the unintended consequences and impacts these changes have on development practice. The project will analyse different forms and renderings of public–private partnerships and how the involved actors perceive, navigate and implement these partnerships.

Combining the insights of post-development theory and actor oriented approaches to development, DEVINT explores public–private partnerships in practice. While the discursive approach of post-development theory attends to the level of policy, an actor perspective will, with a focus on the actors’ joint partnership formation and policymaking processes, grasp how these policies shape development practice. Focusing on the practical encounter of different actors allow us to study the intersection of different actors’ lifeworlds, interests, mandates, and how this shape the formation of joint partnerships and projects. Studying such situations of interface also enables us to explore the complex relationship between development policy and practice, including how actors employ strategies of brokerage and translation to manage and manoeuvre policy–practice and public–private interfaces.

While studying the new aid regime and public–private partnerships are important to understand and improve how bold SDG strategies and objectives are converted into practice, we also posit that doing so will reveal larger processes of governance, power and social change that are shaping the world today.

Project Manager

Jon Harald Sande Lie
Research Professor


Niels Nagelhus Schia
Research Professor, Head of the Research group on security and defense, Head of NUPI's Research Centere on New Technology
Paul Beaumont
Senior Research Fellow
Anna Eriksen Rio
Research Fellow

New publications

Scientific article

Public–Private Development Cooperation: Interface and Conflicting Logics in the Formation of a Strategic Partnership

Public–private development partnership constitutes the core of a deepening normative agenda that places private actors as active development agents and as means through which other development objectives are pursued in partnership with publicly funded aid actors. This normative agenda may challenge international development. This article goes beyond the official policy level to explore the formation of public– private development cooperation in practice, not just on paper. It zooms into the partnership between a Norwegian NGO and a multinational company and their joint project to renovate an old vocational college in Ethiopia to serve the private actor’s need for qualified workers. The article shows how a publicly funded development project becomes a proxy for private interests, but argues that the diversion of public aid is not due to bad intentions or conflicting interests. Rather, it is the result of interface situations created by the public–private partnership agenda and its intentional merger of actors with distinct institutional logics, accountabilities and rationales. The article demonstrates how actors put together as part of the public–private partnership agenda end up undermining the agenda itself because of the interface situations created in the nexus of public and private actors.

  • Development policy
  • Africa
Journal of development studies.jpeg
  • Development policy
  • Africa