The advent of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has refocused global attention on the roles of business and other nonstate actors in achieving global goals. Often, business involvement takes the form of collaborations with the more traditional actors—governments and non‐governmental organizations. Although such partnerships for development have been seen before, the scale and expectations are new. This paper explores how and why these cross‐sector collaborations are evolving, and what steps can or should be taken to ensure that partnerships create public and private value. The arguments are illustrated with reference to cases of market‐driven partnerships for agriculture in Southeast Asia that are intended to engage marginalized smallholder farmers in global value chains in agriculture. The aims of these cross‐sector collaborations coincide with several targets of the Sustainable Development Goals such as poverty alleviation, decreasing environmental impact, and achieving food security. This is a hard case for mechanisms intended to protect public interests, given that the target beneficiaries (low‐income smallholder farmers and the environment) are unable to speak effectively for themselves. We find that structures and processes to align interests in ways that protect the public interest are both necessary and feasible, though not easy to achieve.