Raphael Bradenbrink, University of Oxford

Interorganisational Learning and Public-Private Collaboration in Refugee Assistance

How do private and public organizations learn to provide global public goods together? To help answer this question, I explore the history of the collaboration between a major private donor and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The research project concerns the question of how public-private partnerships in refugee assistance develop over time, and how joint learning and knowledge building shapes the aid they deliver. For the future of refugee assistance, private donors matter more than ever. Taken together, private donations are the second most important income source for UNHCR. In 2020, the private sector contributed about $537.5m, or 11%, of UNHCR’s annual budget. This development leads to an important shift in responsibility: On a global level, the relationship between the United Nations and large private donors becomes more important to sustain operations long-term. On a local level, programming decisions made in coordination with private donors directly affect the lives of thousands of refugees. Therefore, understanding long-term partnerships between private donors and UNHCR matters, and may help to deliver more effective and sustainable refugee assistance in the future.

This thesis traces the development of a long-standing and established partnership between UNHCR and a private donor. Their decade long collaboration in a set of refugee camps in Ethiopia, provides a unique case-study to explore the formation of such a public-private partnership in-depth. I explore how the partnership developed over time, how decisions were made, and how participating in the partnership affected the organizations involved. The project employs a synthesis of social science and historical approaches to the study of interorganisational decision-making.