Private global corporations and the sustainable development goals:
: Case studies of primary health and education provision In Kenya and Uganda

  • Susan Godt

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctorate in Policy Research and Practice (DPRP)


A growing crisis of global inequity, exacerbated by COVID19, deeply challenges the mainstream neoliberal approach to development embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals. The thesis contributes to critical literature focusing on SDG#17 (“to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”) by exploring contested views over how this promotes a central role for the private sector as a source of strategic partners, implementers and funders. The thesis focuses particularly on four SDG#17 strategies: (a) utilising technology and data, (b) establishing multistakeholder partnership mechanisms, (c) maximising financing for development through increased roles for the private sector and (d) creating enabling investment environments.

While there is lively ongoing academic debate about SDG#17 this is weakly informed by empirical evidence about the perspectives, concerns, questions and priorities of the stakeholders most directly affected by the push to engage private corporations more closely, and questions arise about how global private corporations are engaging with them in practice at the national level. The thesis helps to address this gap by documenting and reviewing contested views on this issue among national actors engaged in primary health and education policy and delivery in Kenya and Uganda. The empirical contribution is centred on case studies of two global companies and the business models they have developed to foster their engagement in the SDGs: Bridge International Academies’ model for low-fee private schools and Royal Philips’ model of community life centres for health. A diverse set of perspectives were obtained through semi-structured qualitative interviews with respondents drawn from the two companies, government, development implementation organisations, academia and civil society. The thesis thereby aims to place the views of those most directly involved in implementation of SDG strategies at the centre of the research.

The case studies suggest that the influence of neoliberal ideas on SDG strategies is sustained partly through private corporations’ co-option and use of SDG discourse at global and national levels. Government actors are drawn into complying with this both by its apparent global prevalence and its dominance in discussion of sources of development finance, even when encroachment of private sector models into public systems appears to weaken their overall governance of service delivery. The thesis points to growing risks of these trends, but also reveals continuing support for alternative public sector equity-oriented rights-based approaches to sustainably address inequity.
Date of Award18 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorGraham Room (Supervisor) & James Copestake (Supervisor)


  • Neoliberalism
  • sustainable development goals
  • Kenya
  • Uganda

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