The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2018 | Examining the role of NGOs in Public-Private Partnerships. A comparative approach across housing, education and health.
Document Actions

Examining the role of NGOs in Public-Private Partnerships. A comparative approach across housing, education and health

Principal Supervisor: Dr. Elisa Van Waeyenberge (SOAS,  University of London)

Co-Supervisor: Dr. Jasmine Gideon (Birkbeck)

Co-Supervisor: Professor Elaine Unterhalter (UCL IOE) 

Project description

This project aims to develop a comparative analysis of the implications of NGO involvement within the PPP nexus bearing on the delivery of essential services (housing, health and education), with particular attention to intersections of gender, poverty and ethnicity in their policies and practices.

It seeks to do this by developing a typology and examine the role of NGOs in PPPs in three sectors - health, education and housing in selected countries. This entails:(i) to map NGOs working across housing, education and health at local, national and international levels; (ii) to select 3 NGOs for comparative case study; and (iii) to conduct an in-depth qualitative case study analysis of their engagement with PPPs, paying particular attention to the rationales developed, the flows of money, skills and information, the form and substance of organisational relationship and decision making, and the ways in which aspects of social division – gender, poverty, ethnicity – affect their policies and practices.

The study will investigate interactions of PPPs and NGOs across health, education and housing. These three sectors are integral to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and each has seen the rise of PPPs and the deployment of NGOs as partners within such mechanisms of (social and economic) infrastructure provisioning. This has led to growing concerns around the narrowing of the development agenda as well as prospects for contestation of neoliberalism (in practice as compared to advocacy – with NGOs now increasingly caught in the dilemma of exercising their separate roles of service delivery versus advocacy). It raises questions about the ability of smaller NGOs, particularly those with a more ‘radical’ agenda to respond to the requirements of a PPP. There is also little understanding regarding how the changing role of NGOs in changing governance arrangements of public service delivery, including through PPPs, affects their policies and practices around gender, poverty and ethnicity.


The growing influence of public-private interactions in the delivery of various public goods and services in developing countries is widely acknowledged. Attention within development circles has focused on public-private partnerships (PPPs). These are institutionalised initiatives in which public and private sector organizations (for-profit and non-for profit) enter into specific agreements to deliver a public service. The shifting landscape of public service delivery poses challenges for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) as they adapt to new development funding realities (Banks et al. 2015). Critics have argued that the nature of these new forms of funding limit the possibility of advocacy work as NGOs are pushed to comply with corporate norms of working (Nagaraj 2015), or become instrumental in the implementation of particular forms of service provisioning which they may otherwise have contested through their advocacy roles. The implications for NGO practices remain, however, unclear, particularly when examined through a critical ‘gender lens’ (Gideon and Porter 2015), which seeks to draw out the dynamics of intersecting relationships, hierarchies and struggles.

Proposed methodology

A mapping and typology of NGOs active in PPP programmes across social development sectors will be developed through a review of academic literature and through internet searches regarding the programmes of large international NGOs working in housing, health and education (e.g. Oxfam, Save the Children, WorldVision, SlumDwellers International). The mapping will provide the frame from which three organisations will be selected for further study, while the criteria for the selection will emerge from the typology. The detailed case study research will proceed on the basis of in-depth interviews with key staff members, and, if possible, consultation of internal documents. Collaboration with the case study organisations and discussion of emerging findings will be a feature of the study.

Subject areas/ keywords

Public private partnerships, Non-Governmental Organisations, Sustainable Development Goals, infrastructure.

Candidate requirements

  • The candidate should have a good Masters degree in a relevant subject and a specific interest in shifting development discourses and practices, including those bearing on essential service provision.
  • The studentship is for a duration of 3 years and will cover course fees (at the usual level for UK and EU studentships) and a student stipend.
  • Applicants from non-EU countries may apply for this project but will be required to meet the additional costs of overseas fees from other sources.

Key References

  1. Bayliss, K. and E. Van Waeyenberge (2017) Unpacking the Public Private Partnership Revival, The Journal of Development Studies, doi: 10.1080/00220388.2017.1303671
  2. Gideon, J. and E. Unterhalter (2017) 'Exploring public private partnerships in health and education: a critique' Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy, 33 (2): 136-141.
  3. Gideon, J. and F. Porter (2016) 'Challenging gendered inequalities in global health: dilemmas for NGOs', Development and Change, 47 (4): 782-797.
  4. Unterhalter, E. S. (2017). A review of Public private partnerships around girls’ education in developing countries: flicking gender equality on and offJournal of International and Comparative Social Policy. doi:10.1080/21699763.2017.1328612
  5. Van Waeyenberge, Elisa (2017) 'Crisis? What crisis? A critical appraisal of World Bank housing policy in the wake of the global financial crisis'. Environment and Planning A. DOI: 10.1177/0308518X17745873

Further information

Further information about PhDs in the Economics Department at SOAS is available from:

The successful student will be registered at: SOAS University of London (Economics Department).

SOAS logo

How to apply

Instructions for applicants

Candidates wishing to apply for this fully funded three-year, full-time PhD studentship starting September 2018 must complete bothan admissions application and a studentship application. These are separate processes.

STEP 1: Admissions Application

Apply for one of the Economics: Research Degrees using SOAS’s online admissions form. Further information and the ‘Apply Online’ link are available here.

Applicants must submit a complete online application for admission as soon as possible and no later than the studentship deadline (17:00 UK time, Monday 26 February 2018).

Further guidance for applying for admission to the MPhil/PhD programme and documents you need to submit is available here .

IMPORTANT: Please state in the admissions application that you wish to be considered for the Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentship, use the title of the studentship (project title: Examining the role of NGOs in Public-Private Partnerships. A comparative approach across housing, education and health) as your Research Proposal Title and state Dr. Elisa Van Waeyenberge as your Proposed Supervisor.

Use your Supporting Statement to explain why you are motivated to apply for this particular project, and what skills and experience you will bring to the project. In your 2,000 word Research Proposal please respond to the project description and elaborate on how you would approach the project theoretically and methodologically based on your previous academic training and experience.

STEP 2: Studentship Application

Apply for the Bloomsbury Colleges Studentship by completing and submitting the application form

to by no later than Monday, 26 February 2018 (17:00 UK time). Queries about the application process should be sent to:

The closing date for applications is: 17:00 UK time, Monday, 26 February 2018