Want PPPs to work? Let civil society, private sector make decisions too

Kandeh K. Yumkella, U.N. undersecretary-general and head of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Photo by: Remy Steinegger / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

Fostering sustainable energy is a priority for the United Nations, but does the world body give civil society and the private sector enough of a say in the process?

Not yet, according to Kandeh K. Yumkella, U.N. undersecretary-general and head of Sustainable Energy for All, an initiative that hopes to create a partnership involving governments, business and civil society to make universal access to sustainable energy sources a reality by 2030.

“We all say we want public-private partnerships, but in the [U.N.] Charter today, the private sector cannot be in a decision-making role,” Yumkella said Thursday during a panel discussion at the Frontiers in Development Forum organized by the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C.

“So the challenge I have, looking ahead,” he explained, is how to “create a governance structure for energy within the United Nations that includes decision-making roles for civil society on the board, and the private sector? Not easy, so I’m spending time with lawyers now.”

Giving that power to civil society and private sector representatives is a way to hold the United Nations and policymakers accountable, Yumkella told Devex.

He added that civil society and the private sector will go back to their countries and demand that commitments are carried out. It’s also a way to educate civil society and the private sector about the complexity of energy issues, which then in turn can train their communities on best practices and realistic outcomes.

“For me it’s a deliberate policy ... I bring [nongovernmental organizations] in, give them the numbers, give them the information, the analysis, they help me go out and advocate,” Yumkella said, citing UNAIDS — which allows NGO representatives to vote and become board members — as the model for such a concept.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, DC, he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the United States, and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.