There is now growing consensus that moves towards sustainable development should involve constructive inputs from business, government and civil society. This paper critically examines the emerging partnership for human, institutional development and provision of physical infrastructure between the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in Nigeria. It argues that although SPDC is undertaking partnership with NDDC as part of its overall CSR strategy for the region its success will be influenced by four key challenges. These are political support for NDDC, funding constraints, public perceptions and expectations of NDDC, as well as institutional priorities. The implications of the findings for current debates on partnership and the role of business in society are highlighted. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.