Making government work, and work for all.

Below is an excerpt from the recently published book, The Intersector: How the Public, Nonprofit, and Private Sectors Can Address America’s Challenges edited by Daniel P. Gitterman and Neil Britto. The 17 page introduction is available as a PDF here. You can also access it by following this link and clicking “Introduction” under the “Look Inside” section on the left-hand side.

The Intersector as a Tool to Address Intractable Problems

We live in uncertain times. Today—and in the future—we face a range of seemingly intractable domestic and global challenges. Powerful economic, demographic, and technological forces shape our daily lives at home and across the globe. Since the onset of the Great Recession of 2007 and 2008, only 20 percent of Americans trust the federal government to do what is right, either just about always or most of the time. Moreover, public trust in the federal government remains at a record low as we struggle to address a global pandemic and economic recession. Currently, there remains uncertainty as to the nature of global and domestic economic recovery from COVID-19. It is difficult to imagine successfully addressing these interrelated challenges without collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors in the United States.

Our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic depend on unleashing new forms of cross-sector cooperation. For example, in April 2020, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) partnership, a cross-sector collaboration to develop a coordinated research strategy for prioritizing and speeding development of the most promising treatments and vaccines. While NIH refers to ACTIV as a public-private partnership, it is coordinated by the nonprofit Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) and includes public and private-sector partners. The ACTIV initiative pursues four fast-track focus areas, each of which is led by a cross-sector working group representing the public (government), the private sector (industry), and nonprofits, as well as philanthropic (foundations) and academic organizations (universities). By December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration accepted the non-binding recommendation from the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee—a pivotal moment in the COVID-19 pandemic response. As NIH director Francis Collins reaffirms: “to address what may be the greatest public health crisis of this generation, it is imperative that all sectors of society work together in unprecedented ways, with unprecedented speed.”

This book has a simple premise: perhaps more than ever before, addressing our interdependent problems requires collaboration across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. While each sector has its limitations, it also has unique assets, capabilities, relationships, and mandates. If the sectors collaborate toward a common purpose, they can accomplish far more than each one can alone. In sum, there is a need for an “intersector,” where the public, nonprofit, and private sectors share expertise, resources, and authority to address our most difficult challenges. As a tool of public action, cross-sector collaboration is an instrument through which collective action is structured to address public problems.

We are far from the first scholars and practitioners to argue that cross-sector collaboration can make a difference locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. Each contributor to this book lends new insights into how an intersectoral approach can address the enduring challenges of today and tomorrow. This book introduces a range of concepts and frameworks for understanding intersectoral or collaborative governance, showcases a range of important and emergent applications, and offers guidance on how to design, implement, and measure the outcomes of cross-sector collaboration. All too often, scholars, philanthropists, and practitioners operate in separate silos; this book aims to open new forms of communication between those who advance knowledge, those who invest in solving problems, and those who apply knowledge to improve the economic and social well-being of our communities, nation, and globe. We hope the broad range of academic disciplines and the diversity of philanthropy and practitioner perspectives will yield a distinctive contribution to thinking and practice on the topic.


This book was edited by:

Daniel P. Gitterman is Duncan MacRae ’09 and Rebecca Kyle MacRae Professor and Chair of Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  He is a Senior Advisor to The Intersector Project at the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

Neil Britto was Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Intersector Project, now an initiative of the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation where he serves as Project Lead. He is an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and has advised foundations, companies, and governments on cross-sector collaboration.