19 October, 2016

Why Genuine Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships are Key to Achieving the SDGs

By Tetet Nera-Lauron
Co-Chair, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness

The 2030 Agenda and the evolving development landscape should be more than just an expanded version of the MDGs- it should be more than just business-as-usual. The real shift that we need to see is the genuine recognition of shared responsibility- the emphasis on a collective effort to push progress and solve common problems. And what sits at the cornerstone of this is enabling all development stakeholders, most especially that of civil society.

So what exactly makes CSOs so important?

Often we get lost in just saying that CSOs collaborate with the full diversity of people and promote their rights. That CSOs are voluntary, diverse, non-partisan, autonomous, non-violent, working and collaborating for change. But CSOs are more than this.

CSOs are key actors in development process because of not who they are but what they can bring to the table. The hard truth is that other development actors are often not attuned to situations on the ground as CSOs are- be it political, social, or economic. CSOs work in both peaceful and conflict situations, in different areas of work from grassroots to policy advocacy, and in a continuum from humanitarian emergencies to long-term development. Often what CSOs have to show for are things only CSOs can bring to bear.

But even if we already see the recognition of CSOs inscribed in the SDGs- just saying it doesn’t make it true. Development stakeholders need to push this further. The mere mention of civil society in the SDGs is not enough.

To fully maximise the contributions of CSOs mentioned above relies on how we as a development community enable the pre-conditions that will really make this happen in practice. To put it simple, it is by ensuring, securing, and institutionalising an enabling environment for CSOs. This means respecting their right to initiative and ensuring that CSOs participate on equal footing with everybody else. This means mean upholding CSOs as what they truly are- independent development stakeholders in their own right.

More than just respecting civil society as co-equals in this business of development, where does this take place and how does this matter at high-level negotiations?

This is where multi-stakeholder partnerships come into play.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are expected to proliferate with the aim of supporting the attainment of the overall 2030 Agenda. It cuts through all goals, and has a front seat in the implementation, follow-up and review of the SDGs. But it in order for this to be effective, and in order for this to truly tap the potential of CSOs, it needs to work.

But how will this work if we often take it for granted, ignoring many of the tenants that make it true multi-stakeholder. Most days we only take it as a given. We call the GPEDC unique due to this very value. Yet the very process has now been endangered by fragmentation, limited transparency and lack of accountability.

Experience shows that many governments still pay lip-service to genuine multi-stakeholder partnerships, often exercising ‘pick-and-choose’ behavior, to an extent even threatening the viability of CSOs as development actors in their own right.

To make this work there is a need to redefine the approach of the 2030 Agenda process from a ‘whole of government approach’ to a ‘whole of society’ approach. There is a need for the 2030 Agenda process and all development stakeholders to commit to and implement comprehensive accountability and monitoring mechanisms. To promote democratic processes across different arenas and maximise institutional synergies at the global level without the expense of transparency and accountability is important now more than ever.

Simply put, every development actor should be represented fairly in the discussion and their contributions valued equally. As we go into HLM2, we must remember that our work should be founded on the meaningful inclusion of civil society in all processes, accountability for and of all development actors, and fair and equitable multi-stakeholder partnerships to even try to get close to achieving the SDG aspiration of leaving no one behind.

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