Private sector engagement

Private Sector Engagement (PSE) refers to the interest of donors and others to work more strategically and systematically with business. The OECD uses a broad definition of PSE as ‘an activity that aims to engage the private sector for development results, and involves the active participation of the private sector’ (OECD, 2016). In practice, however, ‘developing an operational framework … implies a need to narrow down the most relevant PSE categories … and to draw pragmatic boundaries’ (DCED, 2017).

For example, PSE strategies tend to focus in practice on working with international business (ECDPM, 2012) whereas other approaches may focus more on local business (e.g. MSD) or on government agencies (e.g. BER). PSE strategies are a means to reach many development goals, the private sector being an equal partner with finance, ideas and capacity. This may include generating more economic opportunities for the poor.

In order to engage the private sector more effectively, many donor agencies are now exploring ways to build staff skills in PSE. The DCED has therefore compiled a list of training offers on private sector engagement and partnerships on this dedicated webpage.

At a glance: Short reads on private sector engagement

DCED guidance and knowledge products on private sector engagement

This section provides access to the DCED’s key documents on private sector engagement, based on the experiences of DCED member agencies and other organisations. Click here to learn more about the DCED’s Private Sector Engagement Working Group.

DCED ‘how to’ guidance and resources

DCED research on different formats of engagement

All new [aid] investments will explore innovative ways to engage the private sector ‘…’Central ‘to this is ‘the concept of shared value…: that business can deliver sustainable social impact … while achieving commercial returns.’ Australia DFAT

We ‘prioritiz[e] engagement with … partners’ core business (to achieve) more-transformational outcomes at scale.’ USAID

Overview documents: engaging the private sector for development

This section links to selected overview documents on how donors and other organisations engage with business to leverage their capacity and resources for poverty reduction.

Global reviews and typologies

Agency experiences

Different formats of engagement (1): Innovative Finance

Innovative Finance typically refers to strategies for mobilising additional private finance and/or for making more effective use of existing funds for development by engaging with private investors, funds or financial institutions. Three specific concepts that feature frequently in discussions on innovative finance include

  • Blended Finance, i.e. catalytic approaches used by development actors to raise or mobilise additional private finance for development purposes (including from commercial or impact investors), using a wide range of instruments
  • Impact Investment, i.e. the practice of private investors of deploying private capital towards development outcomes, while (according to most definitions) generating a financial return
  • Results-Based Finance, which may refer to a specific set of instruments used by development actors to encourage impact investments or the use of private implementation capacity towards development outcomes, by promising to repay or reward investments upon achievement of agreed results.

Overview documents

Mobilising additional private finance for development: Blended Finance

Deploying private capital towards development outcomes: Impact Investing

Encouraging the use of private finance for development outcomes: Development Impact Bonds and other Payment for Results initiatives

Different formats of engagement (2): Engaging with business around core business (and related) activities

A second set of PSE strategies focuses on engaging with (mainly international) companies – either directly or via an NGO – to support or influence core business investments and practices or related activities (e.g. investments that may become core business in the future). This can be done through a variety of instruments, such as grants, loans, policy dialogue or technical assistance to the partner business. Resources on some of the key strategies used by donors can be found below.

Sectoral partnerships

Sectoral Photo Woman Trimming Fleece 2 2016partnerships are typically multi-stakeholder in nature; they feature combined donor and private funding and an agreement of all funding and implementing partners on the sharing of tasks and responsibilities towards a common goal – such as jointly boosting the competitiveness of a particular commodity in a country or regions, or enhancing sustainable production methods.

Multi-stakeholder platforms and processes

Multi-stakeholder platforms are a specific sub-form of partnerships that typically have a knowledge sharing or standard-setting purpose; involve a large number of organisations; and include multi-stakeholder members, supporters and funders. The direct beneficiaries of platforms are their members. Note that the terms ‘platforms’ and ‘partnerships’ are often used interchangeably in the literature (including some of the publications below). Most of the publications below offer insights into the design and governance multi-stakeholder processes more generally, including platforms.

Challenge funds

A sub-set private sector engagement work is implemented through competitive funds and facilities that invite applications from businesses, such as challenge funds. These central or regional-level mechanisms are primarily geared at businesses from donor countries, and offer cost-sharing and/or technical assistance to facilitate investments in developing countries.

Research on current practice and lessons learnt in challenge funds

Result reports and evaluations of challenge funds


Practical tools and ‘how to’ resources for engaging businesslab

This section includes practical advice on how development practitioners can choose partners, design and manage partnerships with business, and assess their results.

In 2017, the Practitioner Hub published a series of thematic blog posts, including on how to bridge the cultural gap between business and development organisations, approaches to business collaboration beyond traditional frameworks, and lessons on screening partners from field programmes.

Generic handbooks, overviews and guides

Mitigating negative market distortions and assessing additionality

Due diligence

Results measurement

Photo credits

Photo credits in order of appearance: USAID Ethiopia (; Nestlé: Nespresso agro-forestry programme (; ALCP Georgia; Urs Flueeller; Nestlé: Youth in Peru (

Photos below: Saira Habib/MDF; Drik/ Katalyst; Tran Viet Duc/Bronwyn Cruden, Global Affairs Canada.