PPP relationship-building 101: Keep the romance alive

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New haircut, check. New outfit, check. Roses, check. Socially distanced restaurant reservation, check. Full grooming session, check. Must be Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year! …maybe.

For some, Valentine’s Day is the ultimate date night, but I would like to suggest that Valentine’s Day should be a day to look back on the year and see if you have been a good Valentine every day—and how you could be a better Valentine in the year ahead. One night of effort is romantic; but true romance is the everyday effort to be a good Valentine, the daily grind of being in love.

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are the same. The PPP contract sets out key moments of verification, like testing and commissioning. These are important mechanisms to ensure the partners meet their key obligations. But truly successful PPPs need everyday effort to engage with their partner, communicate, identify challenges, and resolve them. 

The importance of this everyday effort can be seen best in its absence, in the disputes that arise from projects where the parties fail to deliver the daily grind.

In my career I have seen this across the globe. In an African water project, small problems (failures of both the government and the investor) grew to major disputes where the parties refused to speak to each other. Each wanted to avoid the problem, hoped it would go away, and did not want to bother senior managers with such banalities.

Problems were not addressed and became conflicts; conflicts were not resolved and became disputes; disputes became polarized recriminations. In the end, the government kicked the management of the concessionaire out of the country, in handcuffs. This failed project ended up costing investors and government alike significant amounts of money and reputation.

So many failed marriages follow this same path, mismatches in expectations, failure to communicate, building resentment and bitterness, and finally destructive reaction by one or both parties.

In a railway project in Asia, the government’s demands changed continually during design, and in the end did not fit with the technology chosen. Instead of the investor communicating the problem with the government, or the government checking whether its changes to the project fit with the technology used, the two parties reverted to arbitration and lawyers. The conflict dragged on for years, neither party in the end any happier, and the project a failure.

In the same way, one of my biggest challenges in my own marriage was learning to look at problems and potential solutions through both my own eyes and also through the eyes of my wife. If I do not take time to think about her perspective, then any solution—even if reasonable and effective—may undermine our relationship, which in the short and long term is far more important than resolving any single issue.

Taking time to resolve issues together in a PPP is worth the extra time and effort, as it will reinforce relationships and make resolving future challenges easier. 

So, here’s my challenge to you: make every day Valentine’s Day in your PPP. Invest in the daily grind of relationship-building whenever possible to make a more robust, more successful partnership.
 

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This blog is managed by the Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees Group of the World Bank. Learn more about our work here.

Authors

Jeff Delmon

Senior PPP Specialist

Join the Conversation

James Napitupulu
February 17, 2021

Interested

Murad Abdullayev
October 15, 2021

Good analogy