Oct 28, 2011

Deepening Research on Cross-sector Social Partnerships in the Middle East

Sponsored by NYU Abu Dhabi Institute, RCLA hosted the first in a regional collaborative seminar series at NYU Abu Dhabi October 24 - 26. The series, "Deepening research on cross-sector social partnerships (CSSPs)" aims to explore the landscape of scholarly work on CSSPs in the Middle East, including the various policy contexts where this strategy has been attempted; advance the scholarly conversation by bringing debates from multiple international contexts and support regional scholars in opening possibilities for further research on CSSPs into new policy areas or in comparative contexts. The convening was initiated and facilitated by Sonia Ospina, faculty director of RCLA and professor at NYU Wagner, Erica Foldy, RCLA affiliated scholar and associate professor at NYU Wagner, Bethany Godsoe, executive director of RCLA and Waad El Hadidy, senior associate at RCLA.

CSSPs, or collaboration between the government, nonprofit and business sectors is increasingly viewed as a critical approach to addressing today's shared social problems and considered a promising and innovative policy intervention. The group of 18 scholars and practitioners mainly from the Middle East, and also from South Africa, Colombia and Singapore, discussed the challenges and disproportionate risks and benefits of collaboration, acknowledging CSSPs as a contested space for research and action.

Participants reflected on the traditional conceptualization of societies as made up of three distinct sectors - the public, the private and the civil society sectors - as having clear boundaries and distinct yet complementary roles. Furthermore, participants argued that in the Middle East, it may be more a case of sector "distortion", where sectors are disproportionate in size and power, rather than sector "blurring" as seen in worldwide trends of converging roles and shared practices. The group also emphasized the importance of understanding CSSPs as a means to solving intractable social problems rather than ends in themselves.

The first day of the convening focused on clarifying the topic of conversation, sharing theoretical frameworks and grounding the concept of CSSPs in the realities of the rapidly changing Middle East region. Day two was devoted to understanding how CSSPs happen in action by discussing examples from the region. Representatives from the Abu Dhabi Education Council and two participating schools joined the group to share their experience of public-private partnerships. The group also explored examples of collaboration addressing water policy, affordable housing and youth employment shared by three of the participants. That evening participants attended a special panel organized by the conveners and moderated by Bethany Godsoe with three members of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group, a membership organization whose mission is to promote sustainability management in Abu Dhabi by providing learning and knowledge sharing opportunities for government, private companies and not for profit organizations in a spirit of cooperation and open dialogue.

In the last day the group further explored research implications and opportunities for the study of CSSPs in the region. The group agreed to come to the second convening in the series after having done more substantive work and exploration in the interim. The next event will focus on further exploring on-the-ground examples from the region in an effort to generate research proposals from regional scholars.

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