After only a few years, progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was already off track when the world entered 2020, the start of the “decade of action”. The pandemic is stress-testing partnerships between public and private sector actors while fast-tracking exciting new ways of collaborating. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven extraordinarily adept at exploiting the systemic flaws and the weakest links in societies. Far from being the ‘great leveller’, the pandemic has accelerated inequality and has magnified the plight of the most vulnerable people who cannot afford to comply with confinement measures. With the pandemic’s triple threat to education, health and income, we see a reverse of economic and societal advances for the first time in decades. The United Nations released its annual report on the progress of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the results look bleak:
The global extreme poverty rate rose for the first time in more than twenty years.
Women face an increase in domestic violence.
Child marriage is on the rise after a decline in recent years.
Unpaid and underpaid care work is disproportionately falling on the shoulders of women and girls.
The pandemic has also created immense financial challenges, especially for developing countries. There has been a significant rise in debt distress and dramatic decreases in foreign direct investment and trade, threatening to prolong recovery periods.
While these challenges are nuanced, there is an urgency to break down silos, collaborate across sectors and work with organizations that stand for global progress to achieve a better world for all.
How can we seize this opportunity to re-design and support public-private partnerships for global good and harness collaboration to deliver on the SDGs?
While interviewing partnering practitioners on their partnering perspectives for Impact17, one thing came across consistently. Both public and private sector partners have the enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate to solve global challenges, and especially the SDGs. This opens up opportunities and avenues for new ways of collaborating and different types of partnerships. One interviewee explained how engagement by the public sector with the private sector is siloed. Partners cannot put an organizations advocacy or viewpoint in a one-issue-at-a-time box; an organization may work in both health and gender for example. This causes a sort of silo building where silos are not needed. A level of flexibility and openness is advantageous because when partnerships are too detailed with specific demands, they lose synergy. All parties would benefit from increased collaboration and space for brainstorming to ensure assets are leveraged to achieve both immediate and longer-term objectives.
Several interviewees also explained how they consider the “pitch” mentality or “menu” or “transactional” approach to partnering challenging because they find that this subdues long-term engagement. Instead, some suggest engaging early and involving co-sharing of objectives, timelines and defining goals to involve honest and early discussions about who can bring what, and when, to the table.
COVID-19 has also generated partnerships to harness technology, creatively deliver commitments through virtual collaboration and what was termed “impactful next-generation partnerships”.
Through our partnership mapping, Impact17 can track how technology is being used to broker and sustain partnerships. One example of how the digital revolution supports SDG 17 is provided by research carried out at Hitachi and the University of Tokyo, which is pursuing a “super smart society” where economic growth coexists with quality of life the Government of Japan calls Society 5.0. However, while partnerships such as this are important, digital access remains highly unequal around the world. While more than 80% of people are online in developed countries, only 45% have access in developing countries. In the least developed countries, the figure stands at just 20%.
Advances made in the digital world are no panacea. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has elicited firm commitments and responses from the global community because of its clearly defined shared challenge to society. Partnerships created because of COVID-19 offer invaluable insight and lessons for future action toward the SDGs. Moving forward, multi-stakeholder partnerships will be crucial to leverage the inter-linkages between the SDGs to enhance their effectiveness and impact and accelerate progress in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Building back better requires effective multilateralism and the full participation of all societies.
As Antonio Guterres wrote:
“A brighter future is possible.”
Let’s get to work.