Julia Gilbert: Platforms for Partnership: An Essential Mechanism to Implement the Post-2015 Development Agenda

 

By Julia Gilbert, Coordinator, The Partnering Initiative

 

This September, world leaders will adopt a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by the year 2030. Reaching these ambitious goals will require multi-stakeholder partnerships between business, NGO, government, the UN and communities to function at a scale and quality that dwarf current efforts.

The question of how countries can systematically scale up the engagement of business as a partner in development was the subject of TPI’s Partnering Roadmap, a report launched in April 2014 by DFID Secretary of State, Justine Greening, at the Mexico High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation.

Included within its five key areas for action was the need to build an infrastructure to help drive collaboration. One essential element of this is ‘platforms for partnership’ – multi-stakeholder hubs that catalyse partnerships by physically convening all sectors around particular development or business sustainability issues, facilitating the creation of innovative ideas, and directly supporting the development of partnerships contributing to the SDGs.

While beginning to grow in number, such platforms are still relatively rare and the field is still emerging. Agriculture is one of the more common focus areas – for example the National Platform for Responsible Production and Trade of Pineapples in Costa Rica and the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania which aims to transform agriculture in the region by catalysing new, sustainable and inclusive public and private sector investment in the region. In health, platforms such as the Partners Forum for Action on Chronic non-Communicable Diseases in Trinidad and Tobago bring together all sectors of society to collectively tackle health issues that affect everyone and indeed can only be solved by all sectors pooling their resources. Some platforms, such as Aliarse, also in Costa Rica, and the Zambia Business in Development Facility, cover multiple development or industry issues.

TPI’s new report, Platforms for Partnership, Emerging good practice to systematically engage business as a partner in development, explores what it takes to set up and run such platforms successfully by looking at nine new case studies. A number of challenges and ‘tensions’ consistently come up. While multi-stakeholder platforms should be inclusive, the larger the number of participants and the wider the diversity, the harder it is to reach consensus and get anything done. While engaging with the public sector is important, if the platforms get too close to government, they risk getting bogged down in bureaucracy and politics. While it is essential to be visionary and ‘talk up’ the potential benefit of platforms in order to get engagement from all sides, the partnerships it facilitates may take a significant time to deliver results making it difficult to manage expectations and maintain momentum.

Along with a platform ‘lifecycle’ to assist in developing a platform, the report identifies nine key building blocks for effective platforms: from the skills and competencies required, to the value offering it delivers; from a focus on member engagement and communication to the need for monitoring and evaluation in order to demonstrate success.

While the report makes a strong start, this is clearly an emerging field, and one that will only grow in importance once the SDGs are launched in September.

Editor's Note:

As a contribution to this, on the 18th of June, FSG, the Collective Impact Forum and TPI hosted a free webinar, supported by the Skoll Foundation, to discuss platforms and how to systematically build the infrastructure to systematically drive strong, effective partnerships for the SDGs.

If you didn't catch the live webinar, you can listen to the webinar recording to hear FSG's Sonja Patscheke and The Partnering Initiative's Darian Stibbe in conversation with practitioners Geoffrey Israel Kirenga (SAGCOT Centre Ltd.) and Ernest Muwamba (Zambia Business in Development Hub) as they discuss how to set up and scale multi-stakeholder partnerships through partnership platforms in order to deliver on the SDGs. If you already registered for the webinar, you can log in to access the recording here.

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