The United Nations is best positioned to rally a broad range of stakeholders behind efforts to address such global challenges as conflict, underdevelopment, climate change, and most recently the coronavirus pandemic, speakers told the Partnership Forum today, stressing that such an inclusive alliance can be a “game changer” for sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
“The United Nations was established to forge international cooperation on solutions to global challenges,” said Jens Wandel, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Reforms and the Secretary-General’s Designate for the COVID-19 Recover Better Fund, in his keynote address to the Forum, which is organized annually to discuss the role of partnerships in driving sustainable development.
Emphasizing the need for the Organization to build a culture of genuine partnership entailing all actors, including Member States, regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector, science, academia and the media, he said the Fund, formally known as the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Trust Fund, is now active in 80 countries with a focus on leaving no one behind.
The Fund showed how the United Nations system could come together with its diverse expertise to support the efforts of Governments and how it could move with speed in creating partnerships. In Senegal, the roll-out of a national radio programme on literacy and math reached 652,960 learners. It helped Morocco, digitalize and innovated its health-care system.
In Viet Nam, a smart phone application was developed to schedule 210,400 sexual reproductive health visits, of which about 12,600 were for maternal health services. In Tajikistan, the programme helped establish tele-health technologies for the first time, introducing alternative ways of providing sexual and reproductive health services in the country.
The Fund also pursued partnerships through its solutions catalogue — a pipeline of 208 urgently needed country-level projects.
“Partnerships are going to be central to mobilizing the capacity, will and funding to building back better through sustainable development pathways,” he stressed, highlighting the need for mobilizing collective efforts to secure effective blended financing, concessional financing, impact financing and other types of investments that support sustainable human development.
Citing the Secretary-General, he said that addressing the challenges of the current century requires “a networked multilateralism that links global institutions across sectors and geographies, and an inclusive multilateralism that draws on the capacities of civil society, regions and cities, businesses, academic and scientific institutions”.
Volker Turk, Assistant-Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination at the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, said that collaboration between the scientific community and the public and private sectors has made it possible to develop and deliver COVID-19 vaccines in record time. Governments and businesses have come together to provide solutions to the health and socioeconomic dimensions of the crisis; community organizations and non-governmental organizations were critical in setting up social networks to support those that lost jobs and livelihoods, amplifying the voice of those that were worst hit.
Partnerships can turbocharge technological development in areas that can make a difference for the lives of billions of people and countries with limited resources, he said, declaring “no other global organization can match the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact of the United Nations.”
Sanda Ojiambo, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, said that the Organization should approach partnerships as a “coalition building” exercise: bringing together a more diverse range of stakeholders to work together on global challenges at a scale and scope like never before.
Citing the Generation Unlimited initiative of the United Nations Children’s Fund as a good example of this kind of coalition-building at scale, she said that the agency has challenged companies and other stakeholders to mobilize together in support of young people everywhere. The COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility, launched in September 2020 and involving the United Nations Development Programme, the Global Compact, the International Chamber of Commerce and a number of companies, is another example of working together in coalitions of like-minded stakeholders, in this instance to support small and medium-sized enterprises to recover from the pandemic.
The Connecting Business initiative — a project supporting local business communities to self-organize and lead on emergency preparedness — is another example of the United Nations leveraging its convening power to build coalitions of partners with a scalable, locally-driven approach, she added.
Success, she said, will be measured by how — and how much — corporate stakeholders reallocate their resources and redesign strategies and operations to align with the Global Compact’s 10 principles and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.
In a video message to the Forum, Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stressed that multi-stakeholder partnerships are making positive impacts on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He said that multi-stakeholder partnerships can play a strategic role in mobilizing not only finance but also science, technology and innovation — key means of implementation.
Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that it was heartening to hear the recognition of the United Nations as the centre of networked multilateralism, stressing the important role of digitalization in facilitating such inclusive diplomacy. He said that the Economic and Social Council can help promote coherent pandemic responses at the global level and add real value to ongoing national efforts.
The Forum also held a panel discussion on the theme “Partnerships as Game Changer for a Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19”.
Moderated by Christy Davis, Executive Director of the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University, it featured: Anousheh Karvar, France’s representative to the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization and Chair of Alliance 8.7, the Global Partnership on Eliminating Child Labour; Richard Hatchett, Chief Executive Officer of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; Markus Hottenrott, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer of Morgan Stanley Infrastructure Partners; and Charlotte Arribe, representative of the Citypreneurs, an Urban Innovation Challenge Competition.
Ms. Davis pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has not only seen a number of existing partnerships refocus their efforts in new, dynamic ways but has also served as a catalyst to launch new partnerships designed to respond to the pandemic itself. She said that this latter development serves as an example demonstrating how the public and private spheres can collaborate to create crucial goods like COVID-19 vaccines. She then asked Mr. Hatchett how diverse stakeholder groups can manage to bring everyone to the table to deliver to a wide variety of actors.
Mr. Hatchett said that the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations functioned as a product development partnership and as a coalition prior to the pandemic and, during the current crisis, has taken on a new role as a member of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and founding partner of its COVID‑19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) mechanism. The Coalition aggregates public sector funds and supports public-private partnerships to facilitate the development of vaccines against high-priority pathogens, leveraging its investments and risk tolerance to secure access commitments for 1 billion doses for the COVAX facility. He said that the Coalition’s sovereign investors come from all income tiers: large, traditional funders of global-health programmes such as Norway, Germany and Japan; countries like the Republic of Korea that are just beginning to make such investments; and those that have not been traditional global health funders, including Mexico, Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The Coalition also works with the private sector and civil-society organizations, drawing on all these relationships to be a connector and facilitator during the world’s pandemic response. He added that the Coalition has been a key partner in global efforts to limit the disparities and inequities of vaccine distribution and counter the vaccine nationalism that “was so easy to anticipate”.
Ms. Anousheh, answering a question about the nature of Alliance 8.7’s work, said that the organization is a global partnership that has brought actors together since 2016 to eliminate child labour by 2025 and eradicate forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030. She said that over the past 20 years, the international community has returned more than 100 million children to school after removing them from dangerous workplaces. However, by increasing poverty and closing schools, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated child and forced labour. She said that the international community must act in response, and that it has the means to do so if it acts together to address the underlying causes of child labour, including high poverty levels and weak national legislation and labour institutions. Cautioning that good solutions are impossible to develop in isolation, she underscored the importance of a multi-actor approach that brings together — under the same banner and status — international organizations, representatives of employers and workers, non-governmental organizations and the public and private sectors. Further, she stressed the importance of ensuring that global coordination is followed by specific local manifestation, as no genuine partnership can exist without tangible results on the ground.
Mr. Hottenrott, responding to a query on how to align corporate strategies with those of other partners — in other words, to appeal to both profit and purpose — pointed out that his company’s motivation is ultimately profit-oriented, seeking returns for investors such as sovereign-wealth and pension funds. However, environmental, social and corporate governance factors — which incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals — have played a large role in measuring investment opportunities in recent years and, with the onset of the pandemic, have become even more important. Investors desire sustainable investments that comply with these factors, and so Morgan Stanley spends a great deal of time on renewable projects like energy storage and carbon capturing. He detailed two areas where private capital can play a role: first, by investing in infrastructure that can be operated in a profitable way, where the public sector’s role is primarily that of regulation; and second, as part of public-private partnerships to invest in infrastructure that does not turn a profit. He stressed the importance of aligning the interests of the private and public sectors in such partnerships, pointing out that mutual trust and a positive track record on the public sector’s part can lower the cost of the capital the private sector contributes to such partnerships.
Ms. Arribe then answered a question regarding how Citypreneurs has been serving as a catalyst for urban infrastructure development, detailing how the organization works with different city governments to help localize achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. She said that Citypreneurs works with city governments to identify urban challenges through survey data and then uses that data to offer potential entrepreneurs an overview of market demand. This knowledge sharing through measurable data helps to better align priorities and develop effective solutions. She further detailed her organization’s work in three areas: assisting start-up companies with capacity-building; fostering a strong international start-up ecosystem through dialogue and networking; and offering a platform for young entrepreneurs to pitch their innovative ideas to the public and private sector. She stressed that mobilizing all stakeholders is key to these efforts, and that by providing a “local snapshot” of existing policies and opportunities, Citypreneurs can identify gaps and foster better communication between relevant actors.
Following the panelists’ presentations, the representative of Panama said that the world is at an “inflection point” due to the COVID-19 crisis, where Governments can effect structural change in social-inclusion policies. She stressed that the international community must understand that the world changed because of the pandemic, and that relationships based on privilege and inequality cannot be sustained.
The representative of Qatar called for the promotion of partnerships with the private sector to ensure rapid, equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. He said that his country’s provision of foreign aid in collaboration with Qatar Airways serves as a successful example of such a partnership. He also stressed that rapid cooperation is needed to make the Internet accessible to those not online.
A speaker from the International Trade Union Confederation said that social dialogue is a longstanding form of partnership that has contributed to designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating inclusive policies around the world. He stressed that such dialogue will be fundamental to ensuring a new social contract that guarantees workers’ demands for recovery and resilience.
The representative of Bangladesh, while recognizing the importance of partnerships for development in implementing the 2030 Agenda, urged that such partnerships must account for differing national contexts, capacities and challenges.
A speaker from the International Organization of Employers said that the private sector is a valuable partner for sustainable development, and that this sector must be welcomed not only for its resources but also as a full collaborative partner in implementing sustainable development activities on the national level.
A speaker from World Vision International pointed out that the collective response to the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that collaborative action at scale can happen rapidly where there is sufficient motivation and alignment of interest to act together. She called for expanded social protection programmes to meet the basic needs of children and families, increased investment in climate-smart livelihoods and building community capacity and resilience against future shocks.
A speaker from the Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional (Cepei) said that the cross-border nature of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic shows that regional actors must play a critical role in addressing this crisis. He also stated that such a response must be based on reliable data and that stakeholders must invest based on scientific evidence.
The representative of Morocco said that the private sector has a key role to play in global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and recover from the pandemic. She called for increased investment across multiple relevant sectors, including energy, education, water and sanitation.