Fostering New Partnerships for an Inclusive Post-2015 Agenda

In his 2011 report to the G20 on financing international development for the 21st century, Bill Gates laid out a vision of innovative partnerships built across multiple public and private actors with different competencies applying their unique assets to the shared challenge of improving human lives and livelihoods in the developing world. It is exciting to see this vision built in to both the structure and the agenda for this First High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation held this April 15-16 in Mexico City. The opportunity now is to make it a reality in the way we all work together.

At the heart of this vision must be the domestic resources and leadership of developing countries themselves as the largest and ultimately most sustainable source of finance for key public functions, including provision of basic services and infrastructure. When countries optimise the value of precious natural resources and build more efficient tax systems, and then invest their revenues in human development through the right policies, they are able to accelerate quickly down the path to better health and prosperity and to sustain momentum.

As one of the “new faces” of development finance, the Gates Foundation is also acutely conscious of the continued critical importance of Official Development Assistance (ODA). Donor aid helps fill funding gaps to meet the needs of the poorest, like basic education and health care. It can also help spark new markets for their needs: an area where the private sector does not naturally go. And it fuels R&D that leads to innovations – like vaccines, newer seed varieties and improved sanitation – that are crucial to countries lifting themselves out of poverty.


As a “new face” of development finance, the Gates Foundation is acutely conscious of the continued critical importance of aid. This helps fill funding gaps to meet the needs of the poorest, like basic education and health care.

In this area of global public goods that matter for all the world’s citizens, there is a major role for properly focused traditional aid. This is why the mere volume of aid means little without equal attention to how aid is given and to whom. It is especially troubling if too little aid flows to countries most in need. While we celebrate the fact that ODA increased in 2013 it is concerning, for example, that a smaller share is in fact going to the Least Developed Countries.

Engaging the private sector – especially around concrete initiatives such as GAVI and The Global Fund – has proven highly effective to leverage their understanding of markets to bring new products at an affordable price to those who would otherwise be left out of the innovation chain: mobile savings, new seeds and lower-cost drugs. The private sector’s relentless focus on outcomes and results can also provide a useful discipline to the development sector.

And philanthropic organisations like the foundation – though limited in resources compared to governments and business – have the flexibility to experiment since they do not have to be cautious with public revenue or restrained by market constraints. They can invest in new ways that catalyse the engagement of other funders.

Middle income countries like China, Brazil, India, South Africa and Mexico now have a crucial and unique role to play in development: they can draw on their own recent experience of tackling poverty and can also tap into a large talent pool of well-educated scientists and engineers who are able to innovate in relevant ways.

This unique combination did not exist in the previously binary landscape of donor and recipient. The popularity of “triangular partnerships” among these rapidly growing countries, traditional donors, and poorer countries may be a sign of what’s to come, as countries work together to exploit their comparative advantages to their mutual benefit. The Gates Foundation is proud to be working with all of these countries in areas ranging from vaccine development and financing to agricultural research, to help bring these lessons to poorer nations following them on the path to greater prosperity.

The Global Partnership is a unique opportunity to draw on the strengths of this diverse and dynamic universe of partners and show what inclusive, multi-stakeholder partnerships can accomplish. Fostering a flexible and modern problem-solving approach will be particularly important to map out how the post-2015 development agenda will be financed and implemented.

The foundation believes that finishing the job on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) should remain a core part of the post-2015 framework, and that both ODA and countries’ own domestic resources will be a key source of finance for critical human needs. But the wider ambitions of fostering a socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable development path will only be achieved with and through the engagement of the private sector, government, and especially citizens themselves. This meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation is a key step to help us get there.

SuzmanBioMark Suzman is the Gates Foundation’s President of Global Policy, Advocacy, and Country Programs, leading a team that helps build strategic relationships with governments, NGOs and other key partners to increase awareness, action, and resources devoted to global development and health priorities. He also oversees the foundation’s regional offices and strategic presence in Europe, Africa, China, and India.

A greater role for philanthropy in development co-operation

On the east side of New York, the year has gotten off to a busy start at the UN with meetings of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Although I’ve participated in multilateral processes for more than a decade, my more recent engagement from a philanthropic perspective has generated new insights about the unmet potential of philanthropy in development co-operation. And here I’m referring to the thousands of institutions giving from endowments or doing private grant-making for activities in developing countries.

Indeed, philanthropy was a central pillar of international aid until the middle of the last century, through foundations like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford, and broader forms of South-South giving. That is now dwarfed by official development assistance, but the recognition of the importance of partnerships with non-governmental actors to effective development has grown since the Millennium Declaration of 2000. Though civil society has experienced a ‘hot and cold’ interaction, there are watershed moments, like the groundswell of input to the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Agenda. And engagement with the private sector is expanding, a significant point being the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) in June 2012, where I witnessed a huge number of businesses finally realising that their co-operation is integral to solving social and environmental challenges.

The OECD, UNDP and the UN more broadly have all expanded their attention to partnerships, but philanthropy is latest to – and still least present at – the table. In a series of meetings in 2013, the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, European Foundation Center, global WINGS network, and others explored ways to ensure that philanthropy engages more often, and more effectively, with official aid and development processes.

With Famine Crisis Thousands of Somalis Flee to Ethiopia Refugee CampsPhilanthropy’s role was referred to at the October 2013 Global Partnership‘s Steering Committee meeting, but just one foundation representative attended, even though it was acknowledged that private funds are increasingly important in the face of shrinking official development assistance. In Mexico this April, there are more specific recommendations on how philanthropy can become engaged.

Progress on bringing philanthropic institutions into development cooperation processes has been uneven, for a few reasons. First, most foundations – and even more so emergent individual philanthropists – do not want to be constrained by bureaucracy and negotiation. Those who have large pools of capital or endowments at their disposal can be bold in vision, demanding in expectation, and nimble in action. Second, many foundations give preeminence to the role of their grantees, supporting their diverse voices to influence policy, practice and public awareness – and view their own participation as secondary. And finally, while UN development discussions are concentrated in New York, philanthropy is dispersed worldwide, with a growing proportion on the West Coast of the US and in fast-growing economies like India, China and Nigeria. So if philanthropy is to become more engaged, collaboration must be responsive to this context.

The effort will be worthwhile. Philanthropic resources can be a crucial complement to official resources in at least two ways. These funds represent “patient” capital – supporting non-profit and government grantees to implement both tested and new approaches over a long period, despite changes in government administrations and political parties. Notably, long-term foundation support in the field of health has enabled enormous strides, from specific interventions to creating new institutions and alliances. These funds also represent risk capital – funding innovative approaches and pilot projects where possible failure is a given. Philanthropy’s often entrepreneurial approach to social enterprise, job creation, technology and building networks can be a real value-add to more traditional development aid.

In some ways the planning for future development co-operation and aid effectiveness is set. We reference guiding documents (think Busan, Accra and Paris) in ways that may leave out those who haven’t yet come into the tent. A stream of meetings to debate bracketed text has been scheduled. But there is a sense of opportunity around new and deeper partnerships as the post-2015 goals and architecture are crafted. For example, the interlinking of social, environmental and economic goals will inevitably require expanded interaction between different disciplines and groups – like environmental and human rights groups, or youth campaigners and development economists – and multi-themed philanthropies can play a role to support this. Different approaches to possible new goals, like a place-based goal for urban areas, will be facilitated by a new constellation of actors working toward shared objectives and developing new indicators – and philanthropy can provide a neutral space to explore such approaches. At a recent event hosted by the Ford Foundation, at the end of a long day of official meetings, government representatives lauded the rare and welcome opportunity to delve into issues less formally.

The urgency of tackling enduring challenges like inequality, poverty and climate change impacts is growing, and the stakes are high to get things right. We will need to go beyond existing partnerships to a widening circle and new coalitions for action. But it must be recognised that the modus operandi of philanthropy, like business, differs from governments. This sector won’t wait while governments argue over bracketed text and hold debates on the finer points of goal-setting. They may share the goals, but not the patience for process. Nevertheless, greater engagement of philanthropy will bring lasting benefits and impact to the people on whose behalf we work. These different sectors should look for common ground, and tackle the structural and practical impediments to progress together, making the boldest commitments they can and then demonstrating concerted action to achieve them.

Heather Grady

TO REPLACE 40?The author was a Vice President at The Rockefeller Foundation from 2010 to 2013, and before that was Managing Director at Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.  She is currently serving as a consultant to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and others on engagement in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The views expressed are her own.