Partnerships signify the spirit of doing together, the collective striving and pursuing of goals with aligned vision and objectives. This reduces selfish ambitions and individual agendas, one of the main causes of many environmental and socio-cultural problems.
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 17
The United Nations (UN) has established a collection of 17 interlinked objectives, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or Global Goals, designed to serve as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future”.
Sustainable Development Goal 17 (SDG 17) is about “partnerships for the goals”, whose focus is to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”. The Goal has 17 targets to be achieved by 2030, broken down into five categories: finance, technology, capacity building, trade and systemic issues.
Why are partnerships important to achieving the SDGs? Being the 17th goal should not be seen as the last or least important. Rather it is the goal that connects all the previous 16 goals – Partnerships are vital for some success in achieving the SDGS.
Partnerships signify the spirit of doing together, the collective striving and pursuing of goals with aligned vision and objectives. This reduces selfish ambitions, one of the main causes of many environmental and socio-cultural problems. According to the UN (n.d.), “The SDGs can only be realized with strong global partnerships and cooperation”.
Partnerships versus Cooperation
There is a subtle difference. Partnerships are where we embark on a journey fighting many battles together, working closely together, sharing resources. Cooperation is where we fight a battle together, temporarily sharing resources to combat a specific challenge.
This could be governments with other governments, companies with one another, civil societies, NGOs, local communities etc. working together in partnerships. Sustainable development, climate change, pandemics and many other challenges all benefit from people pooling resources and working together. With today’s prevalent and powerful technologies, partnership possibilities are ever more numerous and powerful.
Some say that Goal 17 is the most important, and they are probably right. Placing it as the last goal is to make us realise that without it, we are unlikely to accomplish all the other goals as a successful sustainable development agenda requires inclusive partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society, that are built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre.
Partnership Lessons from the Covid Pandemic
The Covid pandemic has created a need for different expertise in different sectors and across different nations to come together to solve problems. It is certainly not just a healthcare challenge alone. It is impossible to tackle the complex issues resulting from the pandemic without creative and extensive partnerships, including new and even unlikely partnerships.
Partnering with the big and mighty, as conventional wisdom tells us, is typically the way forward to get results. However, we do not live in conventional times. Unlikely partnerships, between not just different industries and sectors, but amongst players of different scale and geographies, can be critical for success. The small is not necessarily small on knowledge or short of innovative ideas. Global problems call for global partnerships and the way partnerships are formed must change; a focus on purely economic returns is an outdated mode of thinking.
Partnerships forged to battle the pandemic have allowed us to see that it takes different people coming together to form different teams, bringing different expertise and resources together, difficult as that sometimes may be to achieve, to accelerating the success of the SDGs. In spite of having too little incentive and too few regulations that encourage and push for partnerships, we now live in an era where urgent issues facing humanity require a rethinking and new way of working. Powerful governments or firms and small startups or communities have been pushed to partner up. The oddities in pandemic partnerships illustrate the power and value that can be created by sharing and collaborating.
What constitutes as successful partnerships in the pursuit of the SDGs? What can partnerships do that have not yet been achieved and what are the obstacles? It’s easily observable that the 16 goals (apart from Partnerships) are all related to one another, in one way or other. The less obvious fact is perhaps that the skills and knowledge gained and honed through tackling one goal, is transferrable for other goal or goals.
The way we approach tackling these goals often seem to be to look at them one by one. This approach is a basic way to solve problems but is a pre-pandemic or pre-SDG tendency. We can unlock innovation and use resources creatively and more effectively when we look at the goals in a way whereby we identify opportunities for relationships and partnerships. The Goals’ ambition may be as important as ever, but fresh thinking is needed on what the best ways are to achieve them (Nature, 2020). Certainly, we will need to rethink how we do partnerships.
New Perspectives in Goal Setting
As partnerships get stronger, more varied with more stakeholders become more meaningfully engaged, traditional goal setting in the SDGs may need to be redefined. One common, undifferentiated goal for everybody is akin to a whole class trying to achieve a development goal set without understanding each person’s situation.
As complex partnerships become more prevalent, the way we set goals may be given fresh perspectives. Goals and targets have always been set in very standard ways, with indicators that sometimes fail to reflect the needs of a diverse group of stakeholders. Siloed, individualistic or singular actions that sometimes achieve very little. Where partnerships, even uncommon or unequal ones, can be key to solving complex problems, it becomes imperative that we set goals that benefit different stakeholder groups.
Rethinking Partnerships is Key to How Stakeholders Come Together to Tackle Complex Issues
Partnerships may even provide the impetus for organisations to change within themselves. Partnership managers may no longer just look for partners to further their individual organisation’s goals; that is a pre-pandemic way of operating.
Adapting to reflect the complexities of issues and to find solutions to combat crises, can be what new thinking on partnerships must seek to do. Unequal and unlikely partnerships could be the way forward. Organisations that have the resources must do more, in terms of pulling different stakeholders together. One company working with another becomes an outdated idea; one company pulling a few others into alignment to explore how best to work together, is a newer idea. Traditional thinking of how partnerships should be, sadly, seems unlikely to be successful in tackling global issues that are urgent, complicated and require bold, untested and innovative thinking.
Where governments create plans around the SDGs, the goals may even be a guide for their international development policies. With a more vibrant partnership environment, with indicators that are more diverse yet relevant, with measuring and evaluation that is robust and innovative, partnerships can produce better solutions which enable progress in tackling and resolving global issues effectively.
The pandemic, financial crisis and environmental crisis all need human capital and a willingness to explore beyond traditional models of partnerships. The crises we are facing are complex and these complexities require new ways of thinking about partnerships to further unlock human capital, so that we can actually put ourselves back on course to achieve the SDGs. New paradigms of atypical but effective partnerships are key to effective implementation of the SDGs.
United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved from: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/globalpartnerships/
Nature, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02002-3
Blog Contributor to Impact Velocity.
Director of The Centre for Sustainable Tourism Singapore.