No time for piecemeal solutions

Amir A Dossal

The world’s problems have got worse as a result of the global economic slowdown and have long passed the point when any one agency, governmental or otherwise, can tackle them. Meanwhile, the economic crisis is changing the culture of philanthropy. Foundations are rethinking their strategy and giving models, and looking for ways to create a lasting impact. Similarly, corporate philanthropy is moving away from traditional charitable giving towards ‘investing’ in social programmes in a way that uses the sector’s business acumen and expertise. All of these things are conspiring to produce new forms of cooperation.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global economic slowdown and higher food prices combined mean that the number of people going hungry reached an unprecedented level of over 1,020 million in 2009. Millions of them are children. The world’s population is projected to reach 7 billion early in 2012, and to pass the 9 billion mark by 2050. The majority of this increase will be in developing countries, where poorly paid jobs keep people in poverty. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the problem is particularly acute, over 51 per cent of the employed live on less than one US dollar a day.

Growth of multi-stakeholder partnerships

There is a wide acceptance that concerted and collective action will be required if the Millennium Development Goals are to be achieved. ‘Through partnerships and alliances, and by pooling comparative advantages, we increase our chances for success,’ remarked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, signalling a growing recognition by the UN of the need for new forms of partnership, with greater emphasis on sustainable solutions that lead to self-reliance.

Similarly, foundation and corporate giving programmes are now seeking to focus on sustainable development by moving from poverty alleviation to wealth creation. While recognizing that basic needs such as food, shelter and health must be provided for, there is a broad agreement that income generation and job creation are key to lifting people out of poverty.

The last decade has seen the emergence of innovative public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives, especially in health and education. These include the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria; the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization; the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and the Rollback Malaria Partnership.

There is also a growing trend towards issue-based campaigns that bring together various stakeholders to address global problems. The Business Advisory Council for the Greater Tumen Initiative brings together governments and the private sector in northeast Asia, to promote economic activity, develop innovative partnerships, and create sustainable livelihoods in underserved areas. The Global Water Challenge is a coalition of companies, foundations and international organizations promoting creative and sustainable ways to provide universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Growing Sustainable Business for Poverty Reduction is a UNDP programme to facilitate business-led enterprise solutions to accelerate and sustain access by the poor to the goods and services they need, and/or to employment and livelihood opportunities. The GSB engages the private sector in innovative partnerships grounded in market-based incentives. The Social Innovation Fund, recently created by the White House to focus on key policy areas such as education, health care and economic opportunity, will partner with foundations, philanthropists and corporations.

Increasingly, we are seeing a marriage between philanthropy, CSR, aid and investment that offers better prospects of converting the poor from being recipients to consumers, employees and manufacturers.

Working together

However, partnerships need to be based on a clear understanding of the mandate and culture of all the stakeholders. We also need to bear in mind the following questions:

  • What is the impact?
  • What will we leave behind?
  • Is this what the recipients want?
  • Are there others working on similar programmes? Can we pool our efforts?
  • How can we work with the private sector, governments and NGOs to maximize impact?
  • How can we share our experiences and help others learn from our successes and mistakes?

Amir Dossal is Executive Director, United Nations Office for Partnerships. Email dossal@un.org


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