Global partnerships between public and private actors have become a key feature of contemporary international governance and politics. Such partnerships aim at tackling a wide array of pressing problems, among them infectious and non-infectious diseases, human rights abuses, environmental degradation, social inequality, and child mortality. They differ tremendously with regard to their organizational character, proclaimed goals, and participation by the public and private spheres. In Governance Entrepreneurs: International Organizations and the Rise of Global Public-Private Partnerships, Liliana Andonova examines the recent growth of global partnerships across different policy domains. Her main focus is on the political agency behind partnership governance and the underlying shift from the traditional structure of the multilateral system towards the increasingly collaborative nature of global policy-making. In particular, she asks: “[W]ho are the entrepreneurs of such change, what are their motivations, and what kinds of political conditions must they put in place to convene new mechanisms of governance?” (p. 26).

Andonova puts forward the argument that international organizations, together with a number of large donor countries, have become the driving force behind this institutional change, leading to a new quality of collaboration between governmental bodies, civil society groups, private companies, and foundations. While acknowledging the salient role of non-state actors in transnational networks, Andonova contends that “public actors and particularly IOs and governance finance have remained at the core of new partnership governance” (p. 12). According to her, the active role and function of international organizations as governance entrepreneurs and enablers of change are astonishing and stand in contradiction to traditional understandings of international politics as an arena exclusively dominated by nation-states and their central governments. Andonova’s book joins the wave of studies in the field of global politics that emphasize the increasing autonomy, capacity, and influence of international public agencies, including international organizations, specialized intergovernmental bodies and programs, as well as relatively small secretariats of multilateral agreements.

Andonova’s claims about the activist role of international organizations, and the engagement of state and non-state actors into collaborative partnerships, are grounded in a theory of dynamic institutional change. This theory builds on the principal-agent model, which perceives international organizations as agents and nation-states as principals, but adds a dynamic element. In particular, Andonova argues that in addition to the “clear vertical hierarchy of authority and delegation of variable autonomy from states to international agencies, it is also important to recognize the opportunities for coalition building horizontally between agents and principals on the one hand and external constituencies on the other” (pp. 193–194). In other words, she highlights the contextual embeddedness of the relations between international organizations and nation-states, and adopts a more encompassing perspective that does not only take formalized delegated authority into account. Instead, she also looks at the brokering role of international organizations in relation to individual member states and the broader institutional environment comprising various non-state actors.

Andonova formulates five propositions that emphasize different conditions for international agencies to engage with states and non-state actors in collaborative partnerships. They range from structural features of the international system and diverging state preferences, to organizational turbulence in form of budgetary constraints and legitimacy pressures, as well as institutional expertise and the salience of transnational actors and epistemic networks in different policy areas. From this set of propositions, Andonova conducts a comparative empirical analysis of the growth of global partnerships over time and across institutional domains. She focuses on the UN Secretariat, UNEP, the World Bank, UNICEF, and the WHO, and investigates their particular entrepreneurial role in partnership governance and related outcomes. The variation across these international agencies and the diversity of analyzed partnerships allow for a profound evaluation of the derived propositions. In the empirical analysis, Andonova uses a mixed-methods approach and draws on the Global Partnerships Database, which is briefly explained in the annex to the book, as well as primary and secondary source analyses, and a series of expert interviews.

All individual case studies offer rich empirical insights how international agencies have assumed different entrepreneurial roles to foster global partnerships that engage states and non-state actors in a policy dialogue. International organizations, specialized UN bodies and programs, as well as secretariats, act as drivers of the recent expansion of partnership governance in world politics. Andonova concludes that the increasingly collaborative character of global policy-making is “at least partially endogenous to the multilateral system” (p. 193). Her findings challenge conventional accounts of international politics that attribute only limited leeway to international agencies. At the same time, the case studies question assumptions on the privatization of global governance, as they stress the key role of international public institutions in shaping global partnerships.

Despite the rich empirical evidence from numerous case studies, Andonova does not look closely at the inner workings of international agencies. She treats international organizations synonymously with bureaucracies and offers no deeper insights into the motives of the staff members of international agencies to collaborate with state and non-state actors. To what extent are the outreach activities of international agencies solely driven by some executive leaders? Are they instead sometimes rather the result of initiatives and social networks at lower bureaucratic levels? Such questions remain unanswered. Nevertheless, Andonova presents a theoretically well-informed comparative analysis of the emergence and spread of global public-private partnerships. Her book convincingly shows that the rise of partnership governance cannot be explained by structural factors alone, but has been substantially promoted by international public agencies.