Crossing Sectors, Growing Economies

by |September 8, 2011

Hybrid-Value-Chain Framework graphic from ASHOKA.

In the World Economic Forum’s latest ranking of “competitive economies,” the United States fell to fifth, from fourth last year, on a list topped by Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden and Finland. The findings from this survey of 142 nations demonstrate a changing global landscape, reflected in the conversation here about the direction of the economy and the stability of our communities.

While President Obama is on the verge of announcing his jobs plan this week, a few months ago, a compelling federal initiative emerged in the midst of the jobs debate. The Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge, an interagency initiative launched by the Commerce Department, seeks to stimulate innovation to create jobs. It’s not a substantial program by U.S. government standards: $33 million to support public-private partnerships in at least 20 regions across the nation. But its design and intent are instructive.

The idea is to connect the resources of the public and private sectors – the knowledge base of a university, the marketing expertise of a business, the goals and incentives of public policy – to strengthen regional economies.

That’s just the kind of activity that the Earth Institute’s Program on Strategic Partnerships and Innovation focuses on. The program aims to increase understanding of the value and potential of these kinds of collaborations between business, academia, government, non-profit groups and other non-governmental organizations. It’s building a database of examples of cross-sector partnerships around the world, and helping to guide participants in these efforts.

The Commerce Department jobs and innovation challenge invests in a range of activities, from skills training to technical assistance for businesses, using cross-sector collaboration. These industrial clusters, often associated with Silicon Valley, don’t cure all economic challenges. But they can creatively assess available resources and combine them to solve problems. This approach not only can promote industrial innovation and create jobs; it can improve education, limit the spread of diseases and increase access to food.

Lessons from cross-sector partnerships can inform how communities, nations and the world can best connect the many resources that rest in our governments and institutions. Findings from the research by the Program on Strategic Partnerships and Innovation will be published in an upcoming book, Strategic Public Private Partnerships: Development and Innovation.

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