SiF Series: Next-Gen Public-Private Partnerships

By Elsa Givan and Liz Keen, Silicon Foundry

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2020 is an inflection point for tackling critical global challenges. There are two options: go it together, or go it alone. From our perspective, the answer is clear — collaboration is the new competitive advantage, particularly at the intersection of public and private.

Journey to a tipping point

Our world today has been shaped by billions of micro and macro decisions. Some of those decisions, like the pursuit of moonshot ideas in the twentieth century — from putting a man on the moon to accelerating polio vaccine trials — set a precedent for generational innovation. Others, like the at-times inconsistent management of national priorities, have continually chipped away at our resiliency and brought us to a critical reset moment.

The aggregating impacts of climate change, for instance, have put us on the verge of irreversible temperature rise that will continue to cause devastating natural disasters and the protracted displacement of global populations. During the past two decades, there have been numerous decision points — each of which represented a moment where we could have taken action on regulating carbon emissions, incentivizing new energy models and investing in green technologies. Every decision not to act has compounded on the last, leaving us in a crisis state.

There have also been exogenous shocks (i.e. the formation of the internet, the Coronavirus pandemic): moments that rupture the continuity of global progress and drive second and third-order effects that further exacerbate global issues. These uncontrollable forces, coupled with decades of conscious decisions, have brought us to a tipping point.

A new reality

Our current conditions result from a confluence of social and economic forces. These interrelated factors have a compounding effect, causing societal challenges to become increasingly acute each year.

  • Micro-social — Shifts in social behaviors/norms or preferences of individuals or subgroups (romantic norms, notions of work, etc.)
  • Macro-social — Population-level shifts in social dynamics (war, political shifts, aging demographic, generational trends, etc.)
  • Economic — Shifting economic realities or expectations (trade war/commodity shortages, market cycles, etc.)
  • Environmental — Environmental factors that impact lives (global warming, pandemics, rising energy demand, etc.)
  • Regulatory — Changes in laws (privacy regulation, minimum wage, etc.)

This new reality — accelerated by advances in technology, yet hamstrung by global environmental, health and human rights issues — demands a new approach. There is no historical playbook for the conditions we face today, as they are conditions that have never been faced before. Even issues that we have faced historically — i.e. authoritarianism, disease — are rife with new complexity created by advanced technology and connectivity. The distortive prism of the digital world calls into question what we thought we understood about human behavior; research has even shown that it can actually change human behavior.

In a world where problems are connected at a systems-level, and without a clear historical playbook to leverage, we believe the answer lies at the intersection of public and private action. Global issues aren’t the result of any one actor and correspondingly cannot be solved by one alone. Public and private sector collaboration is increasingly critical to enable the rapid testing, deployment and scaling of new technologies and infrastructure systems. Stakeholders from government, industry and academia must align around shared goals related to the most pressing global issues — carbon neutrality, affordable housing, accessible healthcare — and work together to reach them more quickly.

The lines between public and private are already blurred

A new generation of entrepreneurs are tackling humanity’s biggest challenges by creating technologies that will redefine industries and impact billions of people. They’re following the lead of pioneers like Elon Musk, who have proven that companies can shoulder the work of nations by deploying private capital with a small, talented team.

The combination of access to new technology and nearly unlimited computing power, advancements in materials and manufacturing, distributed talent and unprecedented connectivity creates an environment where it is more possible and frictionless than ever before to pursue transformative ideas; yet the realization of these ideas is only possible through strategic cooperation between public and private stakeholders.

Public entities now leverage investment and innovation vehicles as a lever (i.e. sovereign wealth funds, defense industry investment arms like In-Q-Tel), while private companies who have amassed assets that rival many nation states are delving into the policy sphere through their non-profit arms (i.e. Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative). Moreover, any truly transformative technology touches at least one regulatory body (i.e. FAA, FDA) at some point in its to market, making cooperation a foundational requirement of progress.

A new playbook for systems-level change

Systems-level change — the type of change we need to tackle the complex challenges before us today — is only possible if all actors are at the table. This inflection point presents an opportunity to create a new playbook for public-private cooperation on innovative technologies and business models that will accelerate global progress.

Today’s reality has pushed us beyond the existing frameworks of power, regulatory and economic development structures. Silicon Foundry has developed a playbook focused on new models of public-private collaboration that combine responsive policy and new approaches to economic development which incentivize innovation.

In this series, we will highlight some key pillars and mechanisms of our public-private partnership playbook — from ecosystem engineering and innovation districts to next-gen constructs and creative financing models — that make us optimistic for a future worth building together.

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