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. 


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