Leviathan as a client: Public vs private contracting of desalination technologies to address water scarcity

About the Research

Focusing on water provision as a societal grand challenge, we examine the comparative role of public versus private actors in promoting technologies that address grand challenges and, specifically, assess how those actors adopt alternative desalination technologies that vary in their sustainability dimensions. While prior research has explored how governments can promote new technologies via subsidies, tax breaks or direct public execution, we examine how public actors (versus private actors) can instead act as clients, contracting desalination plants with new technologies. Using data on all desalination plants worldwide from industry inception in 1950s up to 2015, and leveraging meteorological drought data as an exogenous shock, we find that, while private clients are associated with higher responsiveness to climate shocks (i.e., a higher rate of desalination plants launched each year), public clients tend to choose more energy-efficient desalination technology in newly built plants. Crucially, we find this effect as contingent upon the institutional development of the countries: public clients are substantially more likely to opt for more energy-efficient technology when located in contexts with higher institutional development. At the same time, pursuing additional analyses of less salient environmental impacts, we also demonstrate how both types of desalination investments are associated with negative externalities through environmental pollution (higher salinity) in the vicinity oceanic areas. By highlighting the inherent sustainability trade-offs in addressing the challenge of water scarcity, our paper contributes to a better understanding of economic organizing for pressing societal issues.

About Ilze Kivleniece

Ilze Kivleniece is an Assistant Professor of Strategy at INSEAD. She holds a PhD in Strategic Management from HEC Paris (France).


In her research, Ilze draws upon organizational boundaries, non-market strategy, and value-based perspectives, to study the emergence and performance of novel, innovative organizational forms as important mechanisms of value creation and capture. Ilze’s principal research areas are 1) the emergence and design of novel hybrid organizational forms, with particular emphasis on public-private (or cross-sector) collaboration, and 2) the impact of political and social interests, and non-market pressures on firm strategy, boundary choices, and performance.


Her work has been published in a number of prominent academic journals such as the Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal and Journal of Management Studies. Ilze serves as a member of the editorial review board of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

Date: Thursday 12 October, 2023

Time: 12:00-13:30 CET

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