Elizabeth Spach, MPP

February 22, 2021

As part of the Virginia Management Fellows (VMF) Program, I’ve had the opportunity over the past year and a half to work on a Public Private Partnership with a Social Purpose (P4) with the other fellows  and community partners. This service project is a new element of the fellowship where fellows “research, design, fund, and implement a public-private partnership with Virginia Tech” to help the broader Richmond community[1] As our project draws to a close this spring, I wanted to take some time to delve into the role of Public Private Partnerships (P3s) in the Commonwealth, how P4s are similar and different to P3s, and my experience working on the VMF P4.

What is a Public Private Partnership?

P3s are partnerships between the public and private sector where governments leverage private sector expertise to raise capital and private companies distribute risk to deliver services with agreed upon performance measures. These mutually beneficial agreements are often used for long-term, public assets such as roads, power grids and water systems.[2] The Office of Public-Private Partnerships (VAP3) within the Department of Transportation uses P3s to fund large scale transportation projects including the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and I-95 Express Lanes Extension. VAP3 recently broadened their role to include non-transportation projects in solar energy development, cell tower/wireless projects and facility construction. Other state agencies also work with private and nonprofit partners to accomplish their goals. When I rotated with the Housing Division within the Department of Housing and Community Development, nonprofit grantees provided essential services including weatherization, affordable housing development and housing solutions for those experiencing homelessness.

P4s and the Importance of Purpose

Organizational development research shows that organizational values and purpose define an organization far more than relationships between members. Having a common purpose orients the organization towards the same goals and serves as a North Star for employees (LaRiviere, 2019a). When individual and organizational purpose is aligned, workers demonstrate a higher level of performance and improved communication (LaRiviere, 2019b).

P4s build on P3s by combining organizational development theory on purposiveness and public private collaboration to achieve a common goal. P3s are most effective when a common purpose aligns the public and private parties. As Grace Wheaton mentioned in a previous blog post, purposive teams are not innate to partnerships and are created by management. Effective purposive leadership has the following characteristics:

  • High performing, mission driven, and values based teams
  • Members are specialized but work with one another to foster collaboration
  • Performance excellence achieved through shared goals, collaboration, communication, clear operating rules/expectations and accountability and trust (Rodriguez et. al, 2019)

P4s and the Virginia Management Fellows Program

For the VMF, the P4’s purpose is to “build social equity to craft the public good.”[3] The P4 gives fellows a “window” into how the state works with a variety of private and nonprofit partners to accomplish its mission. We get an experiential understanding of these relationships through discussions with state leaders about the benefits and challenges of P3s, shadow opportunities for undergraduate business students, conversations with local businesses and community leaders and the service project. While the VMF P4 project is different in scope from the road projects built by the Office of Public Private Partnerships, it nonetheless exposes fellows to the importance of private, public and nonprofit relationships in accomplishing state objectives.

For our P4 project, Cohort 2 is working on an interactive curriculum to expose high school students to state opportunities and professional development skills that align with their interests. While our final project pivoted because of COVID, our mission remains the same: to create and build a sustainable framework that engages and inspires future leaders through personal connections and a shared purpose.

[1] Virginia Management Fellows Program (2021). The VMF Opportunity. https://vmf.spia.vt.edu/vmf-opportunity/

[2] International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group (2021). IFC’s Work in Public Private Partnerships. https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/Industry_EXT_Content/IFC_External_Corporate_Site/PPP

[3] LaRiviere, L., Rodriguez, C., Carlson, K. (2019, October 18). Private-Public Partnerships with a Social Purpose (P4). Presentation, Virginia Tech Richmond Campus, Richmond Va.

Elizabeth Spach is a VMF Fellow currently serving at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). She previously served at the Secretary of Natural Resources (SNR) and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).



International Finance Corporation (2021). IFC’s Work in Public-Private Partnerships. https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/Industry_EXT_Content/IFC_External_Corporate_Site/PPP

LaRiviere, L. (2019). Lecture on Organizational Purposiveness: A Review of Philip Selznick’s Seminal Work. Personal Collection of L. LaRiviere, Virginia Tech Richmond Campus, Richmond VA.

LaRiviere, L. (2019, November 13). The Purposive Team. Presentation, American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), Washington DC.

LaRiviere, L., Rodriguez, C., Carlson, K. (2019, October 18). Private-Public Partnerships with a Social Purpose (P4). Presentation, Virginia Tech Richmond Campus, Richmond Va.

Rodriguez, C., LaRiviere, L., Carlson, K. (2019). Hallmarks of a Purposive Team [graphic].

Virginia Department of Transportation (2021). Office of Public-Private Partnerships. https://www.p3virginia.org/

Virginia Management Fellows Program (2021). The VMF Opportunity. https://vmf.spia.vt.edu/vmf-opportunity/