Aid and assistance in fragile contexts is often unpredictable and conditional. For SDGs to become a reality, especially in fragile and conflict affected states, we need to increase domestic resource mobilization. The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile and Conflict-affected States, signed in 2011 with more than 40 countries and international organisations, advocates for the need to build mutual trust: by increasing the use of country systems and strengthening governments’ capacities to manage aid and mobilise resources to achieve long term development.
The New Deal Implementation Facility, started in 2014, is a Global Partnership initiative that implements the New Deal in fragile and conflict affected contexts. It was renamed “Facility for the implementation of the SDGs in Fragile Situations”), to reflect the need to apply New Deal principles to implement the 2030 Agenda in contexts of fragility and conflict and to foster country-led pathways out of fragility.
While there are numerous efforts from the governments of fragile states and civil society organizations to implement such principles, there is reluctance from international donors to use and strengthen country systems – often for reasons related to lack of or limited transparency and the risky environment that comes with recurrence of conflict. And while they cannot change donors’ behavior, these countries can surely do something to change theirs by strengthening their transparency and accountability.
In this regard, Sierra Leone provides a good example of concrete efforts to align the budget processes to the SDGs cycle as well as to come up with a good national investment plan for the 2030 Agenda.
Sierra Leone, who has been co-chair of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and State building (IDPS) and chair of the g7+ group of fragile and conflict-affected states since 2014, is a prime example of a g7+ country adopting the New Deal. The country has conducted two country-led fragility assessments and signed mutual accountability frameworks for the implementation of their national development plan, adopting fragility and its drivers into their key development planning processes. This West African nation has also demonstrated rigorous commitment to tracking progress on the sustainable development agenda, participating in the 2016 national voluntary review process of the SDGs at the High Level Political Forum for the 2030 Agenda (HLPF).
Back in the 2000s, Sierra Leone predicted that $18-19 billion USD would be required to implement the MDGs by 2015, but such an estimate is still unknown for the new development agenda. The SDG Investment Framework to 2030, the national development plan related to implementing the SDGs, tries to do just that. Towards this end, the New Deal Facility provided seed funds to finance 12 SDG sector policy papers that will inform the framework’s cost. The drafting of these papers has been supervised and guided by Dr. Sheka Bangura, Director of Planning at the Ministry of Finance and Development Cooperation. These papers will serve as basis for the preparation of the national plan, which is intended to serve as a costed guide, with key priorities, accelerators and multipliers.
Dr. Sheka Bangura, however, expects the new SDG Investment Framework to go beyond providing a budget figure. It is not just about the funds that are needed but also how these funds will be used, and which SDGs are prioritized as they can have a catalytic effect on the realization of all the other goals. In fragile contexts, especially in the case of Sierra Leone – where institutions have been weakened both by the conflict and the Ebola epidemic – public financial management and institutional building remain key.
When it comes to accelerators, according to Dr Bangura, Sierra Leone should choose goal 16 as their ‘favorite’ goal: prioritizing institution building and strengthening justice systems. And Goal 16 is where Sierra Leone seems to have put their priorities: they are members (together with Cabo Verde, Mexico, Norway, Qatar, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom as well as members of civil society and private sector) of the Steering Committee of the Global Alliance for Reporting Progress on Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. This is in line with the newly elected government’s vision of governance called ‘New Direction’. It is based on four principles: inclusion, discipline, professionalism, and delivery. The use of country systems is central to the nation’s vision, and SDG 16 is the primary driver.
With Sierra Leone facing the possibility of ever-decreasing ODA flows, the New Deal reminds us the importance of strengthening the use of country systems so as to ensure countries are maximizing their own domestic resource mobilization through fiscal reforms and a comprehensive taxation system, and fostering a conductive business environment for foreign direct investment. For example, Dr. Bangura estimates fisheries alone could bring approximately $100 Million USD in revenue, annually. At the end of the day, it is a matter of political governance where ensuring stricter fiscal management can do a lot to stimulate direct foreign investment in key sectors.
However, it is not just about how many funds are received, but also about accountability: meaning political commitment, an effective justice system, and just and accountable institutions – basically SDG 16. In the words of Dr. Sheka Bangura, “if it was possible to put one of the SDGs above all the others, to designate one accelerator, it would be SDG 16”.
Strengthening institutions though, is the hardest to quantify in international development. While it is easy to calculate numbers of vaccinations provided, lives saved, and roads built, calculating progress on institutional strengthening remains extremely difficult and for this reason we could call it a qualitative goal.
To achieve stronger institutions, effective multi-stakeholder partnerships with organizations using country systems and governments owning development process is critical. As the g7+ says, “nothing about us, without us.”
About the Author:
Mafalda Marchioro has been working on issues of fragility, conflict and governance for the past 8 years. She has worked on the New Deal for engagement in Fragile States since its inception in 2011, first with the g7+ secretariat based in Dili, Timor-Leste, serving the governments of g7+ group of fragile and conflict-affected states and then with UNDP at the New Deal Implementation Facility, now known as the Facility for the Implementation of the SDGs in Fragile Situations.
The effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires access to high-quality evidence. Providing access to and supporting the use of high-quality evidence directly supports each of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s core principles.
Ownership of development priorities by developing countries is not possible without access to local research and innovation. A focus on results is strengthened when countries have access to proven good practices. Partnerships are scarcely possible without access to inclusive learning platforms. And access to open research and data is key for fostering transparency and mutual accountability.
The South African SDG Hub, based at the University of Pretoria, seeks to play its part in improving developing effectiveness by connecting African governments with the most relevance, useful and reliable African research and innovation.
The South African SDG Hub
The precursor to the SA SDG Hub, the South African Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub, was launched in 2017 by South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency, and focussed on collecting, tagging and disseminating South African research relevant for the implementation of the SDGs. A partnership with the Department of Science and Technology ensures that selected South African innovations were also featured on the online platform. During the first half of 2018, the Hub’s partnership with the United Nations in South Africa will also be formalised.
Based on feedback from users in government, multilateral organisations and civil society, the initiative has expanded its initial online offering. It now has four work streams. In addition to sharing relevant, useful and reliable knowledge via its online platform, it also supports South African researchers with providing policy advice, facilitates dialogue between South African actors responsible for the implementation of the SDGs, and supports SDG-relevant capacity building initiatives.
With regard to capacity building, the South African SDG Hub collaborates with a new interdisciplinary postgraduate degree that equips participants with the leadership skills needed to implement the SDGs.
The Hub’s current cohort includes Advisors from the United Nations Development Programme, the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Science and Technology, Statistics South Africa, the African Union’s NEPAD Agency, and selected development partners and academia.
In launching and constantly improving the initiative, the South African SDG Hub is learning a number of important lessons on how to drive development effectiveness by collecting and sharing evidence. At this point, three lessons stand out:
- More information isn’t necessarily better. On the one hand there exists a need to collect as many relevant knowledge items as possible. Yet, the more knowledge items one makes available, the less usable a platform potentially becomes for policymakers with limited time available to work through all the potentially relevant items.
- Digital isn’t enough. Even a cursory look at the literature shows that evidence-informed policy making is about more than merely the availability of knowledge items. You have to go beyond uploading documents on a server, to also build and use high-trust relationships.
- Availability doesn’t necessarily mean quality. Existing knowledge sharing hubs focus on making as much knowledge as possible available. Unfortunately, many repositories contain bad data or unreliable research. Any knowledge dissemination platform is faced with the challenge of balancing inclusion with some sort of quality control mechanism.
Now a Global Partnership Initiative (GPI), the new South African SDG Hub is going beyond traditional knowledge sharing, by building a platform that serves as a centre for high-quality, tailored and relevant evidence and data for practitioners and policymakers who truly matter.