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FEATURE STORYJanuary 29, 2023

COVID-19 demonstrates how the private sector can collaborate with the state to help address crises

Future of Government Case Study - Collaboration


  • The private sector plays a role in supporting government not just in the delivery of services, but through know-how and technology.
  • During the Covid-19 pandemic, some private corporations supported government agencies in their immunization campaign efforts.
  • Future governments might need to address the increasing demands and expectations the public places on them through greater partnership - when it makes sense for citizens.

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In successful mixed economies, governments have adopted policies that allowed the private sector to thrive, providing a regulatory framework that has resulted in economic growth and prosperity. Due to efforts to privatize certain formerly public functions, the private sector has assumed an increasingly important role in the delivery of basic services, such as health and education during the past few decades. While delivering state services through private providers was only partially successful and often faced stiff opposition from the public, in some areas, partnership can provide benefits. 

The private sector successfully intervened during the pandemic and supported government efforts to tackle the pandemic. Other interventions can be found in unexpected areas – for example, the drone industry. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver life-saving medical supplies was already proven to be feasible before the onset of the pandemic. In remote and isolated communities, this new technology operated by the private sector in coordination with governments (which often introduced new, more lenient airspace-related regulations to facilitate the quick deployment of the technology).

This proved to be crucial to deliver personal protective equipment, test kits, and return lab samples in a timely manner. High unit costs for drone delivery remain a challenge, but some private sector firms can iterate quickly and flexibly obtain funding and inputs, which is key for innovative areas of economic activity.

Similarly, in some settings, where the state struggles to train, recruit and motivate, non-state actors (for-profit and otherwise) might take a greater role until the state 'learns to manage'. However, many states have limited the space for non-state actors to flourish in the past few years. Starting points differ hugely.

Partnering with the private sector

Many countries have now partnered with drone companies to pilot the delivery of medical supplies of various kinds via drones, including Apian in the UK, Zipline in Ghana, and Swoop Aero in Malawi, aligning private sector capability with public sector facilitation in real world contexts and addressing citizens’ needs.

The COVID-19 crisis offers an example of how the government of the future can interact with the private sector beyond simply supporting the private sector in crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or banking collapses. The government of the future sometimes needs to closely collaborate with the private sector to increase the scope for non-state action if it is to successfully face future challenges, such as climate change, or ensuring food security. Future governments will need to address the increasing demands and expectations the public places on them in more sustainable ways. The private sector can be a key player in this framework if governments recognize how to use its potential and increases its scope for action.


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