Investing in the essential infrastructure to drive partnerships for the SDGs

By Darian Stibbe, Dave Prescott 25 September 2015

Small business owner Eliphasi Kitomari was able to obtain a loan to buy a tractor used to plough his and his neighbors’ farms with the help of the U.K. government in partnership with Equity for Africa and AgDevCo in Tanzania. If PPPs are to play their full role in the achievement of the sustainable development goals, stakeholders must quickly build up the country-level support mechanisms required to collaborate at a scale that will dwarf current efforts. Photo by: Ed Hawkesworth / DfID / CC BY

In Tanzania, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania is driving the systemic change necessary to enhance food security and nutrition, inclusiveness and green growth. By 2030, it aims to bring 350,000 hectares of land into profitable production, transition 100,000 small-scale farmers into commercial farming, create 420,000 new employment opportunities, and, ultimately, lift 2 million people out of poverty.

In Zambia, the Zambia Business in Development Facility is supporting the creation of partnerships in four primary sectors: agriculture, extractives, manufacturing, and tourism. While it has only been operating for a year, this multistakeholder platform has already catalyzed and is brokering the development of seven new partnerships, with many more in the pipeline. If all works as planned, the collective contribution to the SDGs will be significant.

In Costa Rica, partnerships facilitated by ALIARSE are successfully tackling a range of issues — from greatly increasing the collection of higher quality, recoverable waste to shifting national culture around road safety, from saving hundreds of millions of liters of water in schools to reducing mortality from breast cancer.

Whether in developing or developed countries, what these initiatives have in common is that they are each pioneering mechanisms that are proving critical to driving public-private collaboration for sustainable development. They are each emerging forms of platforms for partnership contributing to the infrastructure that is required to systematically convene government, business, the UN, nongovernmental organizations and communities, and directly catalyze the collaborations that can deliver genuine, often transformational, impact.

While there are already a number of global and regional platforms to promote collective action around specific SDGs such as “Sustainable Energy for All and the Zero Hunger Challenge,” at the country-level, where the rubber hits the road and development is implemented, they are still relatively rare.

These platforms are usually quite distinct from public private dialogue mechanisms –whose focus is most often on the important topic of how government should improve the business enabling environment. The platforms focus on public private action through:

• acting as interlocutors and building the relationships between government, business and other development actors;
•  creating the space for ongoing, iterative — rather than one-off — roundtables, discussion and co-development of innovative approaches;
• providing specialist facilitation or brokering to take potential partners through the partnering process essential to build robust, effective collaboration;
• offering ongoing nurturing and support to help to ensure the collaborations deliver; and
• acting as a secretariat or backbone organization  that can provide the structure, channel leadership and coordinate multiple collaborative activities required for wider systemic change.

One key to the development of such platforms is political support. For SAGCOT, Tanzanian presidential-level support, and the leadership and championing from the government, have been instrumental in getting the commitment from the private sector.

In the case of the ZBIDF, the Zambian government engaged with the platform from the beginning, utilizing it to support the implementation of its ambitious job creation strategy. And Sweden, through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the embassy in Lusaka, is demonstrating its leadership in this emerging area, investing in the new form of platform not only for the direct results around impacting poverty, but also to learn from and mature the platforms approach as a ‘technology’ to help implement the SDGs.

The Dutch and U.K. governments have also been key supporters of the global program, Business Partnership Action, which developed the ZBIDF, supporting the scoping of new platforms and in developing emerging good practice in the approach.

Partnering across societal sectors, with different drivers, incentives, expectations, principles, cultures, timescales, and even vocabulary, is extremely challenging. If we are to see business truly as a partner in development and collaboration for the SDGs to become mainstreamed, governments and donor partners must now ramp up their investments in this catalyzing infrastructure to build the skills and systems to overcome those challenges and drive systematic partnership action.

There is much already in place to build on. Wherever possible, we should extend the mandate and capability of existing structures — e.g. public-private dialogue mechanisms and business networks, such as chambers of commerce, the U.N. Global Compact local networks, industry sector-specific business organizations — and of the U.N. and NGOs that could potentially play that catalytic role. Where there are gaps, new programs will need to be developed, built as inherently multistakeholder initiatives, with dedicated staff with the necessary professional competencies to deliver.

The prize on offer is significant if we can get the support structures right: the leveraging of all of society’s resources to together achieve transformative results; policy and system change; greater economic prosperity; and tangible improvements for people and the environment. And ultimately, there may simply be no other viable option for achieving the SDGs in the many situations where governance gaps or market failures make conventional unilateral action all but impossible.

The authors are grateful to Flynn Lund, a senior consultant at FSG, for her input into this article.

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About the authors

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Darian StibbeDarianStibbe

Darian Stibbe is the executive director at The Partnering Initiative. Following a career as a quantum physicist, for the last 15 years Darian has focused on a single mission: to systematically drive effective collaboration between business, governments, NGOs, donors and the United Nations for a sustainable future. He has made major contributions into international policy both through publications and through representing the private sector on the Global Partnerships for Effective Development Cooperation.


Dave prescott 300x298
Dave Prescott

Dave Prescott is an associate at The Partnering Initiative. He has fifteen years’ experience in cross-sector partnership and sustainability, with a particular focus on communications. Following four years in the corporate services team at the International Business Leaders Forum, Dave became a freelance consultant in 2004.


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