World leaders have a historic opportunity to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, promote peace and justice, and safeguard the environment through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unprecedented in their scope and ambition, the SDGs will test the resolve of the international community over the next 15 years in the universal endeavour to create a better world for all. Success or failure will depend in large measure on SDG 17 which seeks to revitalise the global partnership for development.
Goal 17 is in many ways the glue that binds the SDGs together. It is the most content heavy of the goals and divided into five significant components, each of which is integral to the success of the SDG framework: finance, technology, capacity building, trade and systemic issues. The issue of finance is an important one as many developed countries are failing to live up to the commitment to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income as Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries in line with a UN General Assembly resolution issued way back in 1970. SDG 17 also commits developed countries to allocate 0.15% to 0.20% of their ODA to the 48 countries classified as least developed by the UN. These allocations are important as extreme poverty, lack of social cohesion and development in one country can have serious spill-over effects in other countries including refugee crises and economic downturns. To allay challenges SDG 17 also commits to ensuring technology transfers and innovations in science and knowledge generation between the developed and developing world and also between developing countries.
Notably, SDG 17 also promises to offer international capacity support in developing countries towards national development plans to implement all the SDGs. And vitally, there is a commitment to promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral international trading system under the World Trade Organisation. In an age of dominance of neo-liberal economics where we are seeing large corporations drive governance agendas through the tight overlap between economic and political elites this commitment will perhaps be the hardest to keep as it may directly affect the personal interests of decision makers and their most ardent supporters.
The quality of multi-stakeholder partnerships highlighted under systemic issues will be critical. SDG 17 speaks about the need to encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships. Several civil society groups have already raised a red flag over privatisation of the development agenda as corporate entities are eyeing the development arena as another avenue for profit making. There are several challenges with outsourcing governments’ responsibilities to the private sector, particularly with regard to development activities which will have to be managed. These include the trend towards “pay as you go government”, higher profit-adjusted costs for public services, lesser public scrutiny over development projects and enhanced avenues for corruption between interlinked elites.
Despite the above-mentioned potential pitfalls, the private sector can play an important role in development and realisation of the ambitious post-2015 agenda if it doesn’t pursue narrow agendas. Private philanthropy can be a force for good in supporting myriad independent civil society initiatives for social justice. The Ford Foundation has recently taken the lead to shift its entire agenda towards tackling various forms of inequality. Importantly, the private sector can support transformational agendas in the educational field and women’s empowerment. However, it would be wise for the private sector not to take over activities traditionally performed by civil society such as disaster relief and support to governments in the provision of public services. Civil society organisations (CSOs) with their deep roots in local communities and absence of profit motives enjoy higher trust levels from the public than governments, media and business.
Thus, support for civil society partnerships will be crucial. CSOs contribute in myriad ways to development programmes and assist states and intergovernmental organisations in finding innovative solutions to complex problems. In many instances, they take responsibility for delivery of essential services and help ensure that all voices, particularly those of the disadvantaged and marginalised are factored into development policy. Vitally, they act as watchdogs to ensure that the benefits of development reach those intended by decision makers. To fulfil their part, CSOs too will need to do some introspection to find better ways of keeping alive their activist spirit and making sure they always place the voices of people at the heart of their work.
Lastly, SDG 17 makes reference to data, monitoring and accountability. If taken seriously, this aspiration could unlock the potential of the entire post-2015 framework to be an unstoppable force for good. People-centred mechanisms for data gathering accompanied by robust citizen monitoring of performance could be the key to ensuring accountability of decision makers. However, enabling the collection of independent citizen-generated data will require the fulfilment of certain conditions including respect for the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. So far the portends are not good. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance recently reported that these rights were violated substantially in 96 countries in 2014.
The SDG outcome document commits to being guided by the UN Charter and international human rights instruments, and putting people at the centre. It is now up to all of us to ensure that the global partnership for development reflects this aspiration in practice.
This article was first published on the Huffington Post.