This paper considers attempts by multinational corporations to provide services in areas where the state fails to do so. Under which conditions are such attempts effective? This paper makes two arguments: firstly, they must be legitimate to be effective. Secondly, the institutional design of the firms’ service provision programs is an important factor for their effectiveness. We assess these arguments by analyzing multinationals in the South African car industry fighting HIV/AIDS, and international mining firms in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo trying to improve public security. The analysis demonstrates that under conditions of legitimacy and high degrees of institutionalization firm programs effectively contribute to service provision in areas of limited statehood.