All Hands On Deck: Making Partnerships Work Better

MDF Asia

When writing this article, I learnt of the sad news that Kofi Annan had passed away. He served as UN Secretary General at the time the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000. He was a strong advocate for reforms in the ways the international community was approaching development support around the world. It was that time that the international development community, after years and years of development collaboration, developed a specific and targeted mechanism to measure the impacts of development support: the Millennium Development Goals. It is at this time that the development partners came to a stronger realization of the interconnectedness of many aspects of development, such as the linkages between economic growth, thriving societies and a healthy environment. Over the years that followed we witnessed a growing recognition that all societal sectors, (government, non-governmental organisations, Civil Society Organisations, Private Sector, bilateral and multilateral institutions, academia, etc.)  are part of the solution to the world’s development challenges.

It was this era during which there was confidence in the “change-ability”of our world. There was confidence among the international community that the world’s problems could be addressed collectively. The world’s key actors, including Mr. Kofi Annan, publicly acknowledged that “in a world of unbridled economic growth, wealth and prosperity, coupled with astounding technological progress, it was also intolerable to see continued hard-core poverty, hunger, and deprivation of basic needs and human rights.” The MDGs have done the world many favors. The Goals themselves have not been fully achieved, however the orientation, and the framework of accountability have provided measurable results, and a much-needed sense of direction to national plans and international cooperation. And the overall positive experience of the MDG experiment has led to a more intense, more in-depth discussion among all segments of society, resulting in a  more holistic international development approach by setting 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets.

The remaining challenges are still great. And new challenges are entering into the public eye. The task at hand seems ever greater and ever more daunting. We are witnessing record-level high temperatures, longer rainy seasons, increased numbers of floods and landslides, natural and man-made disasters, a world order that increasingly seems to abandon the equal rights and diversity of people, unparalelled high-tech development, social media driven manipulation of public opinion, increasing numbers of refugees and internally displaced. It looks like the confidence that was once generating a thriving interaction among nations, has now faded, or certainly rapidly changing, and that the international consensus on development is in danger of crumbling under the weight of successive crises and a changing world order, even when we are realizing the real importance of our growing  interdependence. We are coming to a realisation that global problems cannot be solved in one country or even continent.

This background sets the stage for a deeper understanding of SDG 17: Partnerships for the SDGs[1]. Over the years we have seen partnerships at all levels: global regional, local, multi-sector, multi-issue, single-sector, single-issue, bi-lateral, multi-lateral, and more. Partnerships can be formal, informal, organised, ad-hoc. Partnerships can have the form of knowledge platforms, but partnerships can also transform into new well-structured organisations. Partnerships have been created for different reasons: Partnerships may generate more valuable results. In partnerships, the participating organisations will be able to focus on their comparative advantages, and henceforth deliver better in more cost-efficient manners. Partnerships, generate knowledge, and can have mature, professional dialogue on their common interests. Based on the diversity of partners in a partnership, the results of such partnerships will be having greater potential for outreach and for embedding and sustaining results in society. For these very same reasons, partnerships are attractive entities for donor investment, who in turn receive a seat at the table among the partners.

However, despite the rhetoric around partnerships and collaboration, we are still not seeing sufficient impact coming out of partnerships as an essential mechanism for sustainable development[2]. UNDESA and The Partnering Initiative, an international non-profit organisation, indicate[3] that the lack of results can be attributed to two key causes: 1. There are not enough partnerships yet, to deliver in a credible manner towards the SDGs, since the partnership approach is not yet sufficiently mainstreamed and common practice among development partnership. 2. Partnerships across different sectors in society is outright challenging. Significant investments of both time and resources are required to develop and manage partnerships, and hence given the high transaction costs, partnerships should only be used when they have credible potential to create added value well in excess of their inputs.

In order to support agencies involved in partnerships with strengthening their capacities for partnerships management, over the past years, MDF Asia has been delivering courses on partnership management. This MDF training course is built on the assumption that managing partnerships, in principle, implies not only the management of the partnership “system”, but also the partnership “dynamics”. In the context of the partnership systems, the MDF course highlights the “partnerships cycle”, and develops an understanding of the various “system elements” of the partnership: its strategy, its cooperation, its steering structures, its strategic management processes, and the learning and innovation processes. The course will introduce tools to assess the quality of the partnership, as well as tools to monitor progress on self-defined indicators for success. In terms of “dynamics, the course will look into the behavioral aspects of the partners in the partnership and address reasons for organisations to continue or discontinue their engagement and investment towards the partners’ common purpose.

MDF offers a training course on Advocacy and Policy Influencing ( 3 – 6 September 2019) which provide an insight on how you can influence a policy process: from first stages to final implementation. You will also obtain a broad set of tools to plan effective advocacy strategies.  For any queries or requests for support, please email us at mdfasia@mdf.nl or call us at 84 (24) 6258 4438. 

[1] http://effectivecooperation.org/2018/01/financing-the-sdgs-is-everyones-…

[2] Maximising the impact of partnerships for the SDGs; a practical guide to partnership value creation, working version for consultation, UNDESA & The Partnering Initiative, 2018

[3] Maximising the impact of partnerships for the SDGs; a practical guide to partnership value creation, working version for consultation, UNDESA & The Partnering Initiative, 2018

Upcoming courses in Asia 2019

Leadership & People Management (27 -30 August 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal)

Advocacy & Policy Influencing (3 – 6 September 2019 in Dhaka, Bangladesh)

Writing Winning Proposals (24 – 27 September 2019 in Yangon, Myanmar)

Making Partnerships Work (1 – 4 October 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam)