Can we address imbalances of power in cross-sector partnerships?

What does effective collaboration look like when a nutrition programme for children involves a government health department, a UN agency, and local and international NGOs? Is it even possible for these partners to work together collaboratively and effectively when such different levels of influence exist?

Let’s examine the above scenario, which happened in a rural town in Malawi, where World Vision was working with community volunteers to improve children’s nutrition. Using different approaches, a local NGO, the Ministry of Health, the Red Cross and the World Food Programme (WFP) were also leading a variety of different interventions in this area. Each brought different strengths and abilities to the table.

The NGOs had strong relationships with the local community, WFP had great technical resources, and the government had the ability to make decisions on operations and approaches. Each was doing excellent work, but in parallel rather than together. How would these different assets and approaches, including the power imbalances, play out when everyone involved embarked on a collaborative project?

Before we answer that question, let’s explore the broader issue of who holds power – the ability to influence design, implementation and ongoing decision making of projects and programmes – in development partnerships. World Vision is currently advocating for a post-2015 development agenda that allows for cross-sector partnerships to flourish, and that will ensure these partnerships focus on reaching the most vulnerable children. However, in the discussion on what will replace the Millennium Development Goals, World Vision has observed concern regarding the potential unevenness of influence between partners in cross-sector partnerships (this and other potential issues and solutions are explored in the World Vision report Advancing the Debate).

Imbalances of power exist between organisations in all partnerships and at all levels. Which partner is on the ‘lesser end’ of the imbalance will, of course, vary from one setup to another. It’s important to note that concerns regarding inappropriate influence have been levelled at all sectors, including donor governments over developing countries through to corporations with perceived influence on the development of government policy. When an imbalance exists, it’s often the poor who are disadvantaged.

IMG_3377_0The good news is that unevenness of power can be managed and mitigated, while differences in approaches can be turned into advantages. This begins with strengthening the capacity of organisations from all sectors – business, civil society, UN and governments – so they are ‘fit to partner’.

Being fit to partner requires each organisation to be conscious of their level of influence and particular expertise – and to recognise the value others bring to the table. This is the starting point from which an agreement can be entered into that allows for a more even distribution of influence; and ultimately a partnership that is greater than the sum of its parts. If one group seeks to dominate a particular project or programme, it quickly reverts to a sub-contract like arrangement – and invariably the benefits for all partners are lost.

The opposite is also true. We are seeing progressive and well-intentioned companies working with governments and organisations with strong capacity – including strong contract negotiation capacity – and the ability to make sense of how to leverage business activities for sustainable development returns. In partnerships where all groups are able to bring their best, game changing opportunities are being realised.

Equally important to the success of partnerships is empowering people to hold governments, businesses and aid agencies to account. Accountability is fundamental to mitigating the risks of power imbalances. World Vision, for example, is currently supporting more than 411 programmes in 42 countries to implement the Citizen Voice and Action social accountability approach. This approach encourages discussion and helps to transform the relationship between government and citizens.

So how might this work in practice? Returning to the example in Malawi, the partners adopted a partnership brokering approach. In the negotiations that followed, different levels of influence and expertise were recognised, while workshops were organised to explore the complementary contributions the partners could bring to a joint programme.

In so doing, ‘differences’ became ‘strengths’; reasons to work together. A revised, more effective approach and structure for working collaboratively with care groups has emerged. Ultimately each organisation had to adapt from its business-as-usual approach. Crucial to the negotiations was keeping an eye firmly on the agreed overall objective – improved nutrition for children.

Having recognised and brokered its way through the potentially disabling differences, including power imbalances, this fledgling partnership is now working cost effectively to tackle the crippling consequences of undernutrition – and most importantly, to save the lives of vulnerable children.

CF 5TAbout the Author
Dr. Cheryl Freeman is Senior Director for Advocacy & Justice for Children at World Vision International. During the post-2015 process, she has been focusing on the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships and is the co-author of three papers on their potential contribution to sustainable development.

Effective Cooperation with Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships for Addressing Sustainable Development Challenges in Middle Income Countries

Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation Side Event at Financing for Development Conference
13:15-14:45, 14 July, 2015

Hosted by Japan and Mexico

The geography of poverty has been evolving so that middle-income countries (MICs) now represent almost three quarters of the global poor. While a considerable number of countries have reached middle-income status through rapid economic growth, many MICs encounter diverse development challenges including persistent poverty, growing inequality, vulnerability to macro-economic shocks and climate change. Against the backdrop of rapidly changing development architecture with the emergence of new transformative SDGs, there is a growing consensus that this is an opportune time to re-assess the role of development cooperation in the context of MICs.

This high-level multi-stakeholder panel discussion will consider the principles of successful development cooperation practices in MICs. Hosted by Japan and Mexico under the framework of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation; GPEDC, and moderated by international broadcaster Henry Bonsu, the side event will include perspectives from a range of governments, as well as international organizations, CSOs, and the private sector on key questions including:

The event addressed key questions including:

  • How can development cooperation play a catalytic role in addressing impediments to further development in Middle Income Countries?
  • How can the GPEDC as a multi-stakeholder platform promoting behavioral change on the ground support these efforts?

Format and Participation:

A moderated panel of participants shared its views on these questions, highlighting opportunities and challenges ahead, followed by interactive discussion.

Moderator: Henry Bonsu, International Broadcaster

Opening Remarks

Japan: H.E. Mr. Minoru Kiuchi, State Minister for Foreign Affairs
Malawi: Mr. Newby Kumwembe, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development / Global Partnership Co-Chair

Panel Discussion:

  • The Netherlands: Mr. Christiaan Rebergen, Director-General for International Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Global Partnership Co-Chair – Lessons learned from multi-stakeholder partnerships
  • Mexico: Mr. Juan Manuel Valle, Executive Director, Mexican International Development Cooperation Agency (AMEXCID) – MIC perspective in the FfD outcome document
  • UNDP: Mr. Magdy Martínez-Solimán, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support – “The Role of Development Cooperation in MICs” (Japan-UNDP Partnership Fund Survey)
  • Thailand: Mr. Chutintorn Gongsakde, Director-General, Department of International Economic Affairs – Perspectives from MIC in Asia
  • Ghana: H.E. Mr. Seth Terkper, Minister of Finance – Perspectives from MIC in Africa
  • OECD/DAC: Mr. Jon Lomoy, Director of the Development Co-operation Directorate – Development Challenges in MICs

Interactive Discussion from the Floor

  • Republic of Philippines: Ms. Violeta S. Corpus, Assistant Director of Monitoring and Evaluation Staff, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA)
  • ECLAC: Mr. Daniel Titelman, Chief, Economic Development Division
  • UNICEF: Ms. Nalinee Nippita, Senior Advisor for Multilateral and Intergovernmental Partnership
  • CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE): Mr. Jorge Balbis, Co-Chair for Outreach and CSO Effectiveness
  • USAID: Mr. Alex Their (TBC), Assistant Administrator

For more information, please contact

International Tax Conference: ‘Pay your taxes where you add the value’

Thursday, 2 July 2015 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague, the Netherlands

In co-operation with the Universities of Groningen and Tilburg and the Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands organizes a one-day international tax conference. The conference provided a forum for academics, companies, government officials and members of civil society to discuss effective ways to support developing countries’ tax policy and revenue collection. The conference fed national policymaking as well as the international debate on domestic resource mobilization in the post 2015 area. The conference is held in the context of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, of which Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, is co-chair.

Tax avoidance by multinationals is hampering domestic resources mobilisation in many countries. In particular developing countries find it very hard to levy the right amount of taxes on profits of foreign companies earned within their borders. At the same time developing countries are confronted with decreasing aid budgets and badly need the revenues to finance essential public investments. Mobilisation of domestic resources was also one of the major issues at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 13 to 16 July 2015.

Insufficient coordination between the different national fiscal systems offers ample opportunities for tax avoidance world-wide. G20 and OECD try to address mismatches and loopholes in the global ‘patchwork’ of tax regulations through the BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) project. The OECD will come with its full set of recommendations by the end of 2015. Other international organizations, such as EU, IMF, UN and World Bank, as well as regional organisations and individual countries are active with own initiatives, either to enhance fiscal co-operation or to strengthen capacities of tax administrations. The conference ‘Pay your taxes where you add the value’ will focus on how we can best support developing countries in fighting tax avoidance and collecting a fair amount of taxes.

The conference includes introductions of various experts on fiscal rule-making and cooperation and a presentation of the results of the Tax Transparency Benchmark 2015.

Please direct questions to: