The genesis of the NECF dates back to the Private and Public Sectors participation at the International Smart Partnership Dialogue in July, 1995 at Langkawi Island in Malaysia. Experts from the private sector, labour, academia, Civic society subsequently approached the public sector for the development of a similar smart partnership institution that would be the think tank for the country. The best practice was indeed adopted and the NECF was established on 17 July 1997 as a smart partnership institution. It provided a platform for public-private sector consultations on socio-economic issues. The rationale for creating the interface between the public and private sector was to remove the notion of suspicion that characterized the two sectors interaction in the 1980s.

The need to tap into, and maximize existing skills and resources in key public institutions, private sector groups, civil and professional groups, as well as individuals with vested interests in the development of the economy motivated the creation of the NECF. The assumption was that no particular sector or group of individuals had a monopoly of skills or competencies to grow and develop the economy. Over 39 consultative meetings, which comprised institutional representation from the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Bankers Association of Zimbabwe and other stakeholders such as individual academics and business entrepreneurs culminated in the formation of the NECF.