Since the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, thousands of multistakeholder partnerships have been created between governments, civil society, businesses, and academia. Many of these partnerships and other initiatives have contributed to progress on many of the SDGs. However, partnerships need more urgency if they are to have an impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the gravest, most immediate and multi-faceted global crisis that we will witness in our lifetime. Given the scale of the problem and its unpredictable impact, the pandemic has the potential to shake trust in multilateralism, its institutions, and the very fabric of society in most countries around the world.
The fight against COVID-19 demonstrates that an effective pandemic response goes well beyond the health sector. Understanding the unequal ways in which COVID-19 is affecting people and tackling the crisis necessitates a comprehensive socio-economic approach alongside robust public health measures to reach all corners of society and leave no one behind.
It has been likened to an SDG’s dress rehearsal, yet the urgency to achieve most of them does not seem to have been as well recognized. Each of the SDGs demands the same rigour, commitment, and resourcefulness to realize their targets by 2030 as the COVID-19 pandemic response.
COVID-19 is causing global disruption. Nearly 4.5 million lives have reportedly been lost to the virus globally, and many more people are vulnerable. Although the adverse effect of missing the SDGs could be equally as catastrophic, if not more so, there is one significant difference. The world responded to the pandemic with a shared sense of extreme urgency. It is this urgency that has inspired such an incredible global response, including new and unlikely partnerships to invent and distribute effective vaccines around the world.
This is something that partnerships for the 2030 Agenda have been unable to do thus far – achieve in “panic” mode. Shifting mindsets toward greater integration and collaboration is needed to accomplish these monumental tasks.
At this critical juncture, Impact17 is interviewing partnering practitioners from around the world to share their experience, advice and calls to action. This is intended to help people better understand the role of multistakeholder partnerships in a world filled with civil unrest, economic instability, a climate crisis, and an ongoing pandemic to name just a few challenges.
Through interviews with practitioners and experts in all areas relating to the SDGs, I have learned that the world doesn’t just need more partnerships. It also needs existing and future partnerships to accelerate their progress on addressing systemic issues such as education, climate change, poverty, and racial equity. Partnerships need to get on with having a positive impact.
Partnerships can then mobilize resources, increase collaboration, and create new solutions to the world’s challenges. There is great hope for partnerships and a growing sentiment that transformation is required to drive real long-term sustainable action.
Andrew Steer, President of the World Resources Institute wrote :
“We live in a world ripe for transformation. In the midst of this global pandemic and the growing climate change crisis, it is imperative that we address these emergencies and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of longer-term systems change.
Attaining these goals requires transformative action that fundamentally shifts global systems, and multistakeholder partnerships can help usher in this critical change. Partnerships are effective when they are clear in their ambitions, are carefully designed to ensure that each member of the partnership contributes an essential element, and when they have a clear and accountable theory of change.”Foreward to A time for transformative partnerships
These transformative partnerships, however, have been difficult to find. I hope that, with a similar urgency demanded by the COVID-19 pandemic response, more partnerships will evolve their transactional ambitions to achieve transformative success.
The idea of transformation is very alluring. Transformation suggests a dramatic shift, the unveiling of something new or different from a prior form. In some ways, transformation has become the rallying cry for this Decade of Action.
It is a warning, a plea, an urgent necessity.
Partnerships, of course, are not always the panacea for all sustainable development challenges and can be high risk or have high transactional costs. At Impact17, we work to assist both public and private sector organizations to assess their role in multistakeholder partnerships and how, together, these partnerships can contribute to transformative action and progress on the SDGs.
Although there may always be a need for creating new partnerships, the real opportunity is to improve the effectiveness of existing and new partnerships so they can address the SDGs, improve climate adaptation, and ensure greater equity and justice in our world – urgently.