Skip to main content

The role of Multi-stakeholder Partnerships in Implementing the SDGs


This blog is based on the background paper produced for the UNDESA event on partnership held at the UN on 27th of February. 

In September 2015, the United Nations will adopt a new transformative development agenda.  It has been agreed in principle that multi-stakeholder partnerships between business, NGOs, Governments, the United Nations and other actors will play an important role in the implementation of the agenda.
Since 2000, there has been a plethora of partnerships within and outside the United Nations, some considered effective and making an impact on development but many falling short of delivering results and incurring high transaction costs. 

A Little History

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) of 1992 was the first Conference to explicitly call for the active engagement of various “social groups” in the follow-up of Agenda 21 and identified their roles and responsibilities.   Agenda 21 identified in particular nine stakeholder groups that could play a role in developing policy and implementing what was agreed: Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Trade Unions, Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community and Farmers.

Ten years after UNCED, there was substantial advance in the interaction with NGOs and the private sector with these groups allowed to participate in the preparatory phase of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).  A growing consensus had emerged among the actors involved that traditional intergovernmental relations were no longer sufficient in the management of sustainable development.  Consequently they incorporated suggestions for increasingly decentralized and participatory approaches that became formally known as Type II partnerships.  

Type II partnerships, which were meant to complement Type I outcomes or agreements and commitments made by Governments, were characterized as:
‘collaborations between national or sub-national governments, private sector actors and civil society actors, who form voluntary transnational agreements in order to meet specific sustainable development goals’. 

The Summit negotiations concluded that Type II partnerships must meet seven key criteria: 
  1. they should be voluntary and based on shared responsibility,
  2. they must complement, rather than substitute, intergovernmental sustainable development strategies, and must meet the agreed outcomes of the Johannesburg summit, 
  3. they must be international in scope and reach and consist of a range of multi-level stakeholders, preferably within a given area of work and have clear objectives,  
  4. they must ensure transparency and accountability, 
  5. they must have specific targets and time-frames for their achievement and produce tangible results, 
  6. the partnership must be new, and adequate funding must be available, and 
  7. a follow-up process must be developed.     

These criteria built on the Bali Guidelines, which were developed during the preparatory phase for the Summit. (See Bali Guidelines in Annex 1)

In 2003, these partnership guidelines were updated during 11th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development to, inter alia, emphasize that they should bear in mind the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in their design and implementation; should be based on predictable and sustained resources for their implementation and should result in the transfer of technology to, and capacity-building in, developing countries.  

They also emphasized that the involvement of international institutions and United Nations funds, programmes and agencies in partnerships should conform to inter-governmentally agreed mandates and should not lead to the diversion to partnerships of resources otherwise allocated for their mandated programmes (Annex 2 outlines the guidelines agreed upon at CSD11)

Subsequent to WSSD, there was an emerging consensus that partnerships can play significant roles in helping to implement the outcomes from UN conferences. 

Partnerships have been discussed at the United Nations in general terms every other year in the Second Committee of the General Assembly, the informal Partnership Forum of the Economic and Social Council, and in its subsidiary bodies (e.g. Commission on Sustainable Development).  However, as the international community transitions from the MDGs to the SDGs, it is important to consider how partnerships should support the new development agenda in the post-2015 era. 

The Way Froward

There is an emerging consensus that partnerships must be aligned with the new agenda and its new goals.  They should be streamlined and build on already existing and successful mechanisms and processes, have a monitoring and review mechanism for review and evaluation to determine success. They should also have intergovernmental oversight which would also help to build trust and confidence.

To design partnerships for the future, Governments may want to consider the following proposals to build on past successful partnerships and to create a systematic approach to multi-stakeholder partnerships which are aligned to the goals and targets of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  These include the following:
  • Building on past intergovernmental discussions, including in the Second Committee of the General Assembly and in context of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002 and its follow-up in Commission on Sustainable Development as well as in Rio+20, create a set of basic principles and guidelines that should guide multi-stakeholder partnerships associated with the United Nations, including the existing Guidelines on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector;
  • ECOSOC should establish these principles and guidelines governing multi-stakeholder partnerships and a framework for their review.  The framework should be used for assessing impact and results.  It would cover partnerships emerging from all conference follow-up, including those that will emerge after 2015;
  • For the sustainable development goals, one possible approach could be for a meta-partnership to  be created for each target which would then oversee the contribution of those interested in contributing to deliver on the targets and report to the relevant Task Managers;
  • To enhance coordination and impact of partnerships, different UN Agencies and Programmes could be assigned as Task Mangers for each SDG;
  • Adequate and additional funding would need to be made available for the UN Agencies and Programmes assigned to be Task Mangers and for the meta-partnership hubs;
  • Companies engaged in partnerships with the United Nations could be asked to commit to the UN Global Compact Principles;
  • The Partnership Forum in ECOSOC could be utilized to advance the principles and guidelines for partnerships and review those partnerships involving the United Nations to ensure these principles and guidelines are being applied;
  • The High-level Political Forum, under the auspices of ECOSOC, will look at thematic partnerships linked to the sustainable development goals;
  • The HLPF could benefit from a “lessons learnt” review of partnerships by ECOSOC.  

It is understood multi-stakeholder partnerships are complex organizational structures, and no two seem to be completely alike. What can be developed is a framework whose elements can inform and help the accountability of partnerships as they are developed and presented to the intergovernmental bodies.

This blog is based on the background paper produced for the UNDESA event on partnership held at the UN on 27th of February. 


Popular posts from this blog

Guest Blog Mike Barry: 5 things we learnt on Marks and Spencer Plan A journey over last 12 months

Guest Blog by Mike Barry:  Director of Sustainable Business (Plan A) at Marks and Spencer

It’s that time of year, publication of our annual sustainability (Plan A) report. After the harum scarum dash to gather, collate, assure, sign-off and publish a wealth of data we can breathe (for a moment!) and reflect on what it all means.
Here are some quick insights into what we’ve learnt at M&S in the last 12 months on our Plan A journey.
1. Succession – Nine years is a long time in the world of sustainable business. How many corporate plans have come and gone since we launched Plan A in 2007? Too many! The continuity offered by having a single multi-year plan has been incredibly important. It’s allowed us to take long term decisions in a very short term turbulent retail marketplace. It’s allowed us to build the skills and capabilities in our business units to integrate Plan A into their ways of working. It’s allowed us to pick our battles, knowing that occasionally we’ve just got to let a …

Bokova out? Georgieva in for next UN Secretary General

The rumors that have been circulating for the last month have now proven to be true. The Bulgarian government has withdrawn support from Irina Bokova as their candidate for UN Secretary General and replaced her with Kristalina Georgieva, the European commissioner for budget and human resources.
There is some evidence that the right of center parties in European capitals have been behind this with some articles appearing in the last few weeks against Bokova. The Guardian reported on the 26th: “one of her (Kristalina’s) staff members was hacked and emails purporting to be from one of her top aides were sent out to the rest of her office, instructing them to attack Bokova”There is no question that Kristalina has the cv and record to be a very good UN Secretary General. She is a strong supporter of sustainable development issues she will pick up the SDGs and climate agendas with ease. She is dynamic and very personable and was very active around last week’s UN General Assembly High Level se…

Rest in Peace Tania Valerie Raguz 'one of our own'

Photo by IISD/ENB 
It is with deep sadness that I heard of the passing of Tania Valerie Raguz.

Many of us will have worked with her at United Nations meetings over the past ten years when she was the First Secretary of the Mission of Croatia to the UN.

Tania Valerie Raguz was on the Bureau for Rio+20 and a Vice-Chair Of the Bureau of the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and  most recently she had joined the world of NGOs working as the Public Affairs Advisor for the World Animal Protection previously know as World Society for the Protection of Animals. WAP had been very active around Rio+20 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and she helped their work particularly around the SDGs.

Tania played her role in helping to frame the agenda that we are all committed to delivering on. CSD17 was one of the more successful CSD and without Rio+20 there would be no Sustainable Development Goals.

Photo by IISD/ENB I will miss her positive energy, laught…