We are all in it together
1 April 2019 at 5:10 pm
How else can we go about tackling some of the gravest and most pressing societal challenges of our time if not by embracing multi-stakeholder partnerships, write Kylie Porter and Corinne Schoch.
The term “partnership” is not new. And yet, over the last few years and in particular since the adoption of the United Nations 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, it has gained in popularity and attention.
We know that the pathway to eradicating poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, protecting biodiversity, guaranteeing decent work and good health, and tackling climate change will require unprecedented efforts by all sectors in society.
National governments, the private sector, civil society, and the international community are all meant to work together to support and meet the ambitious targets as set out by the 2030 Agenda.
As the late secretary general Ban Ki-moon explained, “to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must swiftly move from commitments to action. To do that, we need strong, inclusive and integrated partnerships at all levels.”
This sounds both sensible and logical. Because how else could we go about tackling some of the gravest and most pressing societal challenges of our time if not by embracing multi-stakeholder partnerships?
The SDGs provide a tremendous platform and framework from which global needs and ambitions can be translated into clear solutions. They provide an ideal entry point for businesses, governments and civil society agencies to work towards a clearly articulated set of objectives. The SDGs essentially cut across sectors, foster transparency and accountability and provide a common language that speaks to the interests of all parties.
According to the Better Business World report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSCD), meeting the global goals could unlock an estimated $12 trillion a year in market opportunities in four economic systems: food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being, and up to 380 million jobs could be created.
And whilst there is certainly a moral imperative to achieving these goals, the economic benefits are clear and seizing these opportunities will inevitably require enhanced partnerships across all sectors.
The objectives of multi-stakeholder partnerships broadly fall within three main categories:
- to convene the relevant stakeholders and develop tangible action plans;
- develop, implement and monitor programs and initiatives aimed at accelerating progress on the SDGs; and
- improve and effectively manage the limited financial resources currently available.
So with the 2030 deadline looming, there has been a big push of support for the partnerships model.
The private sector plays an increasingly important role in providing solutions that can contribute to solving these challenges but are also in a position to generate financial co-benefits for the communities, civil society actors and government agencies that they work with. There is also a growing recognition by communities that businesses have a critical role to play in responding to societal, environmental and political issues.
Thus, leveraging the expertise of businesses, civil society and government agencies has become hugely important, as businesses cannot go it alone. Achieving partnerships between these three sectors to produce meaningful public private partnerships (PPP) will not only break down any walls between the silos still so apparent today, but also significantly help in increasing intellectual capital and investments and fast tracking the development of transformative innovations.
The time is also ripe for the NFP sector to work with a far wider ranging set of actors, particularly given the successive deep cuts in foreign aid spending. An over-reliance on government funding is putting tremendous strain on the sector, this is further compounded by the proliferation of not-for-profit agencies that have emerged over the last decade. It has become a survival of the fittest and yet the SDGs framework could provide the NFP sector with a new window through which to raise much needed funding.
The SDGs also provide a new framework from which to report. By using the same language across each sector and demonstrating how we are meeting the goals could enable the NFP sector to demonstrate the value of development assistance to the Australian government and its people. This is something that has sorely been lacking across Australia but with more and more government departments reporting against the SDGs and a growing number of businesses doing the same, it makes absolute sense to see the NFP sector responding in kind.
As the idea of the partnership model has gained traction the ways in which it is conceived have also evolved. There has been a clear shift away from the traditional partnership model: from private enterprises granting capital to NFPs thus enabling them to deliver humanitarian and/or development assistance across their health, education, or environmental portfolios of work to an understanding that stakeholders now work together by leveraging each other’s experiences to deliver transformational change. This new model is becoming the new normal.
In this new era, NFPs can scale up their impact tenfold by accelerating and enhancing the delivery of new and existing projects as well as informing corporations on best practices. This is an exciting and significant window of time for NFPs who may have transformative ideas yet insufficient capital necessary to execute their programs.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also facilitated numerous public-private partnerships aimed at advancing the SDGs in their acknowledgement of the necessity of collaboration. One of these DFAT supported partnerships was Oxfam’s partnership with the Philippines Central Bank which has demonstrated the innovation and scaling that can result from a PPP.
According to the Oxfam Senate Submission report, the partnership saw the piloting of a new electronic payment system. This system levelled the field for poor Filipinos who were previously unable to transfer money safely and cheaply as well as making cashless payments for goods actually possible. This was the first of its kind in the Philippines and will have the transformative effect of providing access to financial services for thousands of women and men across five provinces.
This cross-cutting initiative showed that SDG Goals 1 (No Poverty) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities) may be within reach with the right partnerships by applying transformative technologies and the piloting of new ideas. However, many more PPPs like this one are necessary in order to stay on track to reaching the SDGs.
It is the cumulative effect that will enhance and accelerate our ability to meet the 2030 deadline. Not to mention a push by all to start talking the SDG language so that we may all better understand each other’s approach and impact across the SDGs. With just over a decade to go, collaboration and execution of innovation are needed now more than ever.
That said, whilst the partnership model might be the only pathway to achieving scalable and successful outcomes, the complexities associated with these types of partnerships cannot be underestimated. We often hear the concept of shared value and yet the more the term is used the vaguer it seems to become. A true partnership must absolutely place all partners on equal footing, with each having an equal stake in the game. The idea of “we are all in it together” is tremendously important.
These partnerships take time. They are long and difficult processes that require that trust be built over many years. To achieve these goals, we will need to work with a wide-ranging set of actors from across a number of sectors. We need to exploit the talent and resources that we have available to us today and work together more harmoniously to ensure that we can deliver action as opposed to simply delivering a set of hollow commitments.
As Kofi Annan said, the time for action is now, we are no longer in a position to wait and see. The SDGs if harnessed correctly can provide us with that call to action and ensure that we are all aligned to deliver on these ambitions.
About the authors: Corinne Schoch is the senior adviser of the Global Compact Network Australia. She brings with her 10 years’ experience in the climate and development sector. Her professional experience includes providing climate change adaptation/mitigation and sustainable development technical support to a diverse set of institutions, communities, and government departments, with a focus on addressing the risks that climate change poses to key thematic, sectoral, policy and organisational plans, programs and strategies.
Kylie Porter is the executive director of the Global Compact Network Australia. She is a sustainability expert with over 15 years of experience in corporate affairs, sustainability and strategy roles across a broad range of industries. During her career, Kylie has provided advice on responsible business and corporate responsibility practices to senior management; managed reputation risk for environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues; developed and implemented sustainability and corporate responsibility strategies; and wrote and managed policies across thematic areas such as climate change, human rights, child rights and industries such as mining and metals, oil and gas and forestry.