Meeting the SDGs promise will depend on Public, Private and Civil Society partnerships

Nov 21, 2017

UNDP Resident Representative Edward Kallon speaks at the International Sustainability Conference 2017 , Lagos (Photo, UNDP Nigeria/Lucky Musonda)

Let me begin by thanking the conference organisers - Lagos Business School -for inviting me to speak at this event. It is always a pleasure to be in the midst of such a distinguished audience of government officials, academics, private sector executives and young sustainability enthusiasts. I bring you warm greetings from the United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Ms Amina J. Mohamed who was initially scheduled to be the speaker during this session but could not join us today due to other pressing engagements.

Mr Moderator, although the concept of sustainable development has been well articulated and well appreciated since 1987 when the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development produced the report titled “Our Common Future” -more commonly known as the Brundtland Report; it is 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted two years ago that have brought this concept to the centre-stage of international debate and national policy making processes.

Indeed Agenda 2030 has galvanised action and opened a wide window of opportunity for ensuring stakeholder engagement, smart partnerships and seamless horizontal and vertical coordination of actions on sustainable development at all levels.

The world over, the SDGs are increasingly becoming the ‘lingua franca’ of policy makers and development practitioners, as well as other stakeholders. I wish to congratulate the Lagos Business School for adopting this universal language of contemporary development discourse and for organising this conference under the theme ‘partnership for sustainable development and innovation’.

The 2030 Agenda commits all countries and stakeholders to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth; social development; and environmental protection, while ‘leaving no one behind’.  It is a transformative agenda for People, Prosperity, Peace and Planet to be implemented through a solid global Partnership – the 5 Ps.

The scale and ambition of this new agenda calls for smart partnerships, as well as integrated and innovative approaches to sustainable development. It calls for collective action at all levels since no one nation, sector or segment of society, acting alone can achieve it. Certainly, Governments, acting alone, will not deliver the SDGs.

Through the 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development framework, nation states have recognized the imperative of a revitalized partnership, that is, “an intensive global, national and local level engagement in support of implementation of all the goals and targets; bringing together Governments, civil society, the private sector, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources.”  The need for public, private sector and civil society partnerships which is the focus of my speech this morning, therefore, could not be greater and more urgent.

Driving Sustainable Development Through Public, Private and Civil Society partnerships

Mr Moderator, I now wish to turn my attention to public, private and civil society partnership and discuss these as a modern-day developmental imperative. Partnership is at the very centre of the sustainable development agenda.

It is both a means to an end, since it is a crucial enabler for the attainment of the other goals; and an end in itself, since Goal 17 is on ‘Means of Implementation and Revitalized Global Partnership. Progress, or the lack of it, towards the SDGs, will depend heavily on the extent to which public, private and civil society partnership can serve as the driver for sustainable development. 

Private Sector Partnership

Private business activity, investment and innovation are major drivers of productivity, inclusive economic growth and job creation. A thriving private sector is critical for domestic resource mobilization, principally via taxation.

As you are all aware, domestic resource mobilization if a key pillar of Goal 17 on ‘Means of Implementation and Partnership’. Other pillars of this goal which are highly dependent of the private sector include, but are not limited to: domestic and international private business and finance; international development cooperation; international trade; debt and debt sustainability; science, technology, innovation; capacity-building; and data, monitoring and follow-up of progress.

Mr Moderator, as I have alluded to earlier, the private sector is critical, for instance, as a source of tax revenue and will thus play an important role in filling the funding gaps for SDGs implementation in developing countries which, by some estimates, stand at 2.5 trillion dollars. That a large share of the resources needed to fund the sustainable development agenda will come from the private sector - businesses, foundations and private investors either indirectly via taxes, or directly, cannot be gainsaid.

But for the private sector to be a key driver of the sustainable development agenda, there is need for a fundamental shift from the common perception that the contribution of private sector to sustainable development is limited to philanthropy and voluntary corporate social responsibility to a more holistic view of the role of the private sector.

While philanthropy and corpoarte social responsibility remain important and relevant, there is need for the private sector to shift towards  inclusive and sustainable business models that deliver sustainable development - without undermining profitability.

This shift to inclusive and sustainable business models should cut across the entire spectrum of the private sector from micro and small enterprises; to cooperatives and multinationals. The private sector ought to apply creativity and innovation in creating jobs, growing the economy, delivering basic social services and conserving the environment.

As I have stated elsewhere in the past, the task ahead over the next thirteen years is enormous and the private sector, as the engine of growth, must move speedily to the centre-stage of the development process and occupy as the ‘engine room’ of the sustainable development agenda. The sustainable development agenda must no longer be peripheral to their business models and actions. This agenda must be at the very core of their strategies, models and actions. 

The private sector ought to engage as partners in the development process and invest in areas critical to sustainable development and shift to more sustainable consumption and production processes; developing the requisite skills; and creating descent and durable jobs.

They must internalize any negative externalities associated with their actions – the polluter pays principle. Only in this way can we tackle the pervasive poverty and deprivation, while conserving the environment for future generations.

But a conceptual question often arises as to how to reconcile profit motivation with sustainable development. Profit motivation and short-term economic gains though necessary considerations for businesses, must never be viewed as zero sum objectives. While it is perfectly legitimate for the private sector to pursue these objectives, it is also possible that these objectives, they do not necessarily have to be pursued at the expense of long-term economic and social development as well as environmental management. Profit motivation and sustainable development are not mutually exclusive.

In a nutshell, Mr Moderator, private sector actions are not necessarily incompatible with sustainable development. Far from it,  the promotion of sustainable development, is, in the final analysis, in the interest of the private sector. Let me just offer one example to illustrate this.

Mr Moderator, a healthy, well-educated and skilled workforce is needed by the private sector to engage in productive activities. Similarly, abundant and assured supply of natural resources, an important factor of production, is important for private sector to thrive. It is thus in the long-term interest of the private sector to promote sustainable development.

Civil Society Partnership

Mr Moderator, many of us gathered in this auditorium today will recall the active engagement of Civil Society Organisations during the entire consultative process leading to the adoption of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.

The CSOs helped in shaping the 2030 Agenda by capturing the aspirations of various constituencies including women, youth, people living with disabilities and even industry through expert consultations, online dialogue and social media platforms. Indeed, the 2030 Agenda has been proclaimed as “an Agenda of the people, by the people and for the people”; in large measure, due to the active engagement of the civil society organisations in the consultative process. This intense engagement should be rolled over to the SDGs era.

There are many ways in which strong partnerships with civil society could drive the sustainable development agenda. I will however, address myself to four areas where partnership with civil society will be critical in the context of, and probably yield the highest dividends for, the SDGs.

CSOs are important service providers and change agents, especially at the community level; thus contributing directly to the attainment of the SDGs. They provide critical social services and are also engaged in environmental protection programmes, especially in remote and hard-to-reach localities. They often do these through very innovative and cost -effective mechanisms.

The CSOs develop capacities of and mobilise local communities and other stakeholders at the local level for project identification and prioritization; peer learning and information sharing; and participatory project evaluation.  CSOs are also important agents in facilitating, through consultative processes, the defining of local development priorities and feeding these into policy and planning at national and local levels. That is, they play an important role in localizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Civil society organisations are the voice of the poor and marginalized. Just like during the consultative process, they will be critical is capturing the voices and aspiration of local communities and bringing these to bear in development discourse; and policy and decision making at national and international levels. 

CSOs also provide useful link and bridge the information and knowledge gap between the various layers of governance – international, national, sub-national and local levels. 

Moving from our comfort zones - asking the uncomfortable questions

The foregoing would lead one to ask the next logical question: what will it take drive sustainable development through private sector and CSO partnership, beyond the rhetoric?  Mr Moderator, I am of the view that if we continue on a business-as-usual track and at the current scale of operation; level of engagement with the private sector and civil society organisations; and pace of adaptation to change and innovation in delivery of development, then not much progress will be made.

Unless we change course and strategic approach to partnerships, the promise of sustainable development and prosperity for all will remain a mirage. The private sector and civil society organizations ought to move to a new platform of engagement with the government and other stakeholders; a new scale of operation; and a new modality of delivering development through greater efficiency and innovation.

It is gratifying to note that in Nigeria steps have been taken to provide the necessary platforms for engagement with the private sector and civil society organisations, through the establishment of, respectively, the SDGs Private Sector Advisory Group and CSOs Coordination Board. We should seize the opportunity provided by these platforms to elevate and properly position the private sector and CSOs as key drivers of the SDGs process in Nigeria

More importantly, in order for public, private and civil society partnerships to drive the sustainable development agenda, we need to ask some different, and often uncomfortable questions; and interrogate, not only quantitative, but also qualitative aspects of development. It is no longer sufficient to talk, in general terms, about the overall contribution of private sector, or the public sector and civil society organisations for that matter, to sustainable development. Rather, it is more appropriate to ask questions around the appropriateness, relevance, quality and importantly, durability of that contribution.

We must go beyond the numbers game and ask some tough questions: whether we have achieved full and productive employment or not? whether there is gender -parity in employment? whether the youth, beyond completing school, have the requisite skills for the labour market? whether the labour force is engaged in descent and durable jobs? and whether poverty and income inequality are being addressed through reported jobs and growth?

We must ask important questions about the environmental cost of growth; we need to be concerned about negative externalities of activities that grow the economy and create jobs and, as much as possible, internalize such externalities. These are, certainly, not easy questions. Indeed, many of us often find them uncomfortable.  But they need to be asked nonetheless; and they deserve answers. I hope that this conference will tackle some of these questions.


I wish to conclude by stating that the path to sustainable development is windy and wrought with many obstacles.  Luckily, though these obstacles are inescapable, they are not insurmountable.  We need to gather necessary courage, marshaling all available resources, to surmount them. And this is why smart partnership with the private sector and civil society organisations is needed now, more than ever before. As the UN family in Nigeria, drawing on our global network of ideas and resources, we will work together with the Government in promoting smart and effective partnership with these sectors in order to drive the sustainable development agenda.

I thank you all for your attention.

- Ends -

Communications Specialist

Lucky Musonda

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