Ah, summer—the season when I briefly forget Ottawa’s brutal winters and turn my thoughts to my adopted city’s picturesque parks, fabulous waterways, winding bike trails, and summer festivals. And—dare I say it—the heart-racing thrill of diving headfirst into the captivating world of infrastructure and public-private partnerships (PPPs). Yes, it’s time for the 2023 PPP summer reading list!
Okay, maybe PPPs don’t make everyone’s heart skip a beat. But there’s something undeniably intriguing about the idea of collaboration between the public and private sectors to build bridges, roads, and (for Ottawans at least) that finicky urban rail system known as the O-Train. But where to begin, given the enormity of the infrastructure challenges facing us all?
Luckily, my personal obsessions dovetail nicely with infrastructure. So here we go.
Rebuilding Ukraine’s infrastructure. These days, I am preoccupied with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 30 years ago, I started my career with the World Bank Group in Sumy, a provincial city near the Russian border. I’ve been married to a Ukrainian for 24 years and am a permanent resident of the country. I start every day checking in on my 81-year-old mother-in-law (she refuses to leave Kyiv), who often sleeps in the hallway or the bathroom in case a Russian missile or a drone hits the building.
A decade ago, I worked on a USAID-funded PPP project in Ukraine. Today, I recognize the enormous value that PPPs will have in rebuilding infrastructure when the war is over. Ukraine will need a lot of support from the private sector to rebuild.
In this context, the infrastructure section of the World Bank’s damage assessment is a great place to start your summer PPP reading. The report paints a shocking picture of the war’s destruction and emphasizes the importance of a private sector role in reconstruction efforts.
Quality Infrastructure Investment (QII). For the last few years, I’ve been supporting the QII Partnership, an initiative launched by Japan and the World Bank to integrate the QII Principles into World Bank-supported infrastructure projects. Adhering to these principles brings infrastructure to a higher level—one that maximizes the economic, social, environmental, and development impact of infrastructure. Of these, I’m mostly consumed with climate change (I mean, these days, who isn’t?).
PPPs can help improve climate resilience if set up properly. Last month, the World Bank Group took a big step in making this happen by launching the Climate Toolkits for Infrastructure PPPs, which include an “umbrella” toolkit as well as five sector-specific ones, including water, renewable energy, and roads. These are hefty tomes (well, as hefty as a digital tome can be), so you might want to start with this blog post: Introducing the sector-specific climate toolkits for infrastructure PPPs.
Here’s another climate-related blog post that caught my eye: How battery storage PPPs are powering up the global energy transition. We all love the lithium batteries that power our phones and laptops. But battery energy storage systems, or BESS, can store energy generated from renewable sources like solar and wind and distribute it when needed, for example, at night or on windless days. BESS can also stabilize electricity grids by releasing energy during periods of high demand.
Digital transformation. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of digital technology—without it, businesses, governments, hospitals, schools, and communities would not have been able to function. It also enables low- and middle-income countries to bypass traditional developmental stages in various sectors, such as communications, transport, and utility services. By adopting digital technologies, these countries can quickly advance their infrastructure and services and speed up their development.
An article in the Harvard Business Review, The Case for Investing in Digital Public Infrastructure, explains how digital public infrastructure, like digital IDs and payments, has reshaped economies. It emphasizes that public-private coordination is necessary to make it inclusive, innovative, and focused on people. This infrastructure can accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals, but overcoming barriers and aligning incentives across public and private sectors is key.
Some concrete examples of digital transformation in action can be found in a recent blog post, From conflict to cooperation: Building a digital highway across the Western Balkans. It describes how the region built a digital backbone with the help of the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF), paving the way for a digitally connected future aligned with the European Union. The concept, modeled on a similar initiative in the Baltic nations, may be extended to Central Asia. A related post, Kosovo’s digital revolution: A success story, shows how digital transformation has brought broadband throughout the country, even in the most remote mountain villages.
Communication and PPPs. Finally, there is another blog post that touches on one of my favorite topics, communications, which is essential in PPPs: Creating investor “buzz” about PPPs through market sounding & project pipelines. The author, David Baxter, notes that investors are often skeptical about potential investment opportunities. This creates a “buzz” that can lead to investments in quality infrastructure.
I hope that reading about infrastructure and PPPs this summer will lift your spirits as much as it has mine. When governments and businesses commit to openness, transparency, and putting people first, the possibilities are endless.