Public-Private Partnerships: The Key to Successfully Implementing the SDGs

The Brookings Institution and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently partnered to present a talk on utilizing public-private partnerships (PPPs) in order to effectively implement the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDGs are a list of goals, proposed by the UN, that target issues related to health, poverty, hunger, inequality, education, and climate change. According to the expert panel, partnerships connect decision-makers at the global level with the private sector, local governments, and civil society in an effort to capitalize on their specific strengths and balance their weaknesses.

Bill Gates speaking at a press conference at the end of the GAVI Alliance pledging event
Bill Gates speaking at a press conference at the end of the GAVI Alliance pledging event

For example, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, is a PPP that provides access to vaccines in developing countries. The major players in this alliance consist of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, The World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, these organizations have successfully contributed scientific research, vaccines, and financial tools. According to Gavi, “Since its launch in 2000, [the alliance] has helped developing countries to prevent more than 7 million future deaths…Gavi support has contributed to the immunization of an additional 500 million children.” Gavi’s objectives were strategically implemented to produce results that protect developing populations and improve healthcare, which aligns with SDG 3 that aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”

Partnerships are arguably the driving force behind the successful implementation of the SDGs. Governments are often slow and unreliable, while existing institutions like private corporations and civil society organizations have “on the ground” experience navigating the challenges inherent to their industry. The success of a PPP is determined by inclusivity, local implementation and ownership, transparency, accountability, political engagement, and strong focus on results. According to a study conducted by the OECD, “effective partnerships must have strong leadership, be country-led and context specific, apply the right type of action for the challenge, and maintain a clear focus on results.”

The SDGs also focus on more specific goals such as improving infrastructure, conserving oceans, and sustaining energy, which leaves room for partnerships to narrow their focus and innovate, particularly in the private sector. According to Devex, “Business leaders are still trying to understand the concept of sustainability, too, and how to integrate it into their business models.” The ODA method of developed countries donating funds to developing countries is ineffective since monetary aid does not specifically encourage the creation of new and sustainable systems. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Over the past 60 years at least $1 trillion of development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Yet real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s.” As is often the case, this money is lost in transit and never reaches the local level due to corrupt bureaucracies and weak relations with civil society organizations. Financial contributions from the private sector, when combined with effectual and enabling political leadership, move beyond temporary alleviation to foster a more permanent impact.

Public-private partnerships are a vital part of Goal 16, which seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Ultimately, PPPs allow for a more inclusive and communicative atmosphere conducive to tackling important development issues on a more direct and practical platform that enables self-sufficiency and citizen accountability. If the SDGs are to be achieved, the vital role of PPPs cannot be ignored.

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The Unsung Heroes of Global Humanitarian Assistance

August 19th marked the 12th annual World Humanitarian Day, which celebrates humanitarian assistance in developing countries. World Humanitarian Day began in 2003, dedicated to the twenty-two aid workers who were killed by the bombing at UN headquarters in Baghdad that year. According to the World Health Organization, “82.5 million people in 37 countries need humanitarian assistance.” While foreign aid and international NGOs are play an important role in humanitarian response, the efforts made by local aid workers are just as important. A core part of a functioning civil society, local aid workers are often more sensitive and attuned to the needs of the local population since they share a common culture, environment, and language. Given their unique position, local aid workers are typically the first to respond to a crisis, thereby reducing the number of lives lost and damages incurred from the outset. For example, local aid workers were delivering assistance to those affected by the Ebola outbreak in 2014, six months prior to the World Health Organization’s declaration of a public health emergency.

Unlike their unwieldy international counterparts, local aid workers are better equipped to combat some of humanitarian assistance’s greatest weaknesses, including the timely, low cost, and culturally sensitive distribution of aid. Local aid workers can also access areas, people and knowledge that many foreign parties are unable to tap. In spite of their essential role in crisis management and their capacity to promote sustained philanthropic development, local aid workers often lack the resources marshalled by larger international groups. According to a research study conducted by Oxfam, “Between 2007 and 2013, the resources provided directly to [local aid workers] averaged less than 2 percent of total annual humanitarian assistance.”

People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal on April 25th 2015. (Source: EPA/Narendra Shrestha)
People free a man from the rubble of a destroyed building after an earthquake hit Nepal on April 25th 2015. (Source: EPA/Narendra Shrestha)

Though mobilizing local aid workers is a more effective solution in most emergency situations, without adequate funding and resources, local aid workers are unable to properly address and respond to a crisis. In response to the Nepal Earthquake that struck in April 2015, the Nepal Flash Appeal distributed $422 million to over 70 organizations, but Nepalese organizations received just 0.8% of those funds. In spite of their limited funding, approximately 1,800 local Nepalese aid workers led relief and recovery efforts to minimize the damage caused by the earthquake, compared to approximately 450 Indian aid workers who responded.

In addition to the paltry funds and resources, local aid workers are also more susceptible to on-the-ground hazards. According to the Overseas Development Institute, “attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years, from 90 violent attacks in 2001, to 308 incidents in 2011, with the majority of attacks directed towards local aid workers.” Particularly in those countries racked by civil war and cultural conflict, local aid workers may be caught in crossfire, while international aid workers can depend on the protection of foreign and domestic governments.

Emphasizing the importance of local aid workers may be the first step in realizing World Humanitarian Day’s mission to commemorate those who have risked their lives to help other people. In advance of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Turkey in 2016, it is imperative that policy-makers embark on initiatives that recognize, strengthen, and protect the crucial role of local aid workers in global humanitarian assistance. To maximize the efforts of local aid workers, communication with international civil society organizations must be improved, funding must be increased, and the distribution of resources must be better organized. When all of these needs are met, the world will be better equipped to confront future disasters and humanitarian crises.