Fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration

Fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration

By Kevin Steinberg

There are two potentially historic deals on the world’s negotiating table this year: the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), focused on extreme poverty and global development, and the Paris 2015 Convention on Climate Change. For decades to come, these two agreements will help shape and direct global efforts to address some of the world’s most vexing challenges like health, poverty, education, equality and environmental sustainability. However, effective treaty outcomes are necessary but not sufficient to address these systemic issues successfully — only a collective response from governments, businesses, civil society and the public has the potential to re-shape the way our common future will unfold.

Over the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of working on complex, multi-faceted social issues from a variety of perspectives, from both from the private sector and the social sector, as well as alongside world leaders and grass-roots activists. Challenges like climate change and those raised by the SDGs are too systemic, interrelated and complex for any single nation, organization or sector to address alone. Some of the greatest past successes as well as some of the most promising upcoming opportunities to address them stem from collaboration across different players and sectors. In addition to pressing negotiators for aggressive targets, concerned efforts must be made to nurture the multi-stakeholder partnerships that will ultimately help meet them.

In recent years, there have been several shining examples of successful cross-sector collaborations, such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Launched in 2000, it brought together a coalition of governments, UN agencies, private sector companies and civil society organizations to launch and fund a renewed effort to combat preventable childhood diseases. For decades prior, there had been limited global progress on delivering basic vaccines in developing countries. However, in the last 15 years, this collaboration has overseen the vaccination of over half a billion children and has saved seven million lives.

Non-government players were critical to the formation of GAVI. A $750m commitment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided core seed funding for the initiative, and the effort was launched in Davos during the 2000 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, where cross-sectoral global leaders pledged their partnership. The World Economic Forum itself, the international organization where I spent many years working to engage the private sector on global issues, has long been recognized as a leader in fostering these types of multi-stakeholder collaborations.

Another multi-stakeholder partnership, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has, since 2002, raised and disbursed over $30bn, making it the world’s largest financing mechanism of its kind. Prior public health efforts had largely focused on bringing donor and recipient countries together, often using prevalence of disease as the primary criterion for distributing aid. Conceived as a partnership between the public sector, business and civil society, the Global Fund’s central premise was to disburse funding based on innovation and impact, adopting what some called an “investment & accountability” model modelled after the private sector.

As the Global Fund was being launched, I was working for the global consultancy McKinsey & Company, one of the first private sector firms to get involved. I recall the early, optimistic discussions amongst private sector companies and large foundations eager to contribute; I also recall skepticism from many sides about the motives of private sector participants, questioning whether pharmaceutical companies or consultancies had conflicting interests, or whether development should be funded by large foundations unaccountable to the public. In the end, unlike the global development organizations that preceded it, the Global Fund’s governing board was and remains comprised not only of representatives from government and international organizations, but also private sector and foundation voices.

Outside of the public health sphere, multi-stakeholder collaborations have also become increasingly common. Progress towards the eight UN Millennium Development Goals, which in 2000 aimed to halve extreme poverty rates amongst other targets, have likewise been accelerated through reinforcing efforts from governments, business and civil society. The UN refers to 700 million freed from extreme poverty between 1990 to 2010, with a primary driver being hundreds of millions of new private sector jobs created in China and India in particular. Meanwhile, formal UN entities like the Global Compact are evolving to invite and encourage business collaboration for a sustainable economy, and groups like Action/2015 are linking hundreds of NGOs in the global development effort.

While these successes show how strong relationships between the public, private and social sectors can bring positive change, there is a new force that is just starting to be unleashed. As we confront ever-greater climate and poverty challenges, the collective power of ordinary people will also become increasingly vital. Thankfully, it’s also evolving to meet the challenge: around the world, people are being connected across boundaries of geography, culture and language as new technologies, models and organizations are helping them demand change and take action. Increasingly, citizen involvement is driving governments and negotiators to make difficult choices and adopt needed reforms.

During last September’s UN General Assembly week, an unprecedented coalition of private, public and social sector players partnered to gather more than 400,000 people to march through New York’s Central Park in support of climate action. Innovative new organizations like Here Now, a movement accelerator focused on climate, clean energy and sustainable solutions, have focused on partnering with like-minded organizations to reach millions of people through online channels. This past April on Earth Day, it helped over 200 partners including 20 major businesses; over 45 NGOs; 75 artists, filmmakers and musicians; globally recognized celebrities and politicians; and thousands of citizens across five continents, to reach 265 million people with the message that #ClimateChangeIsReal and so are the solutions to address it.

The struggle is also playing out in the business arena. Groups like the B Team, founded in 2013 by Sir Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, are inviting business leaders to not only change their companies, but ask their consumers to join broader reform efforts. In New York last September, the New York Declaration on Forests had over 20 global food companies join governments, civil society and indigenous peoples to commit to halving deforestation by 2020 and ending the practice by 2030.

And, the push for consumer action is creating partnerships between political, business and philanthropic actors. This year in their annual letter to foundation supporters, Bill and Melinda Gates called for the public to join Global Citizen, a public movement aspiring to connect tens of millions of like-minded people to urge governments, non-profits and companies to commit to addressing extreme poverty. The world’s leading philanthropists calling on the public to join a crusade traditionally driven by the world’s largest organizations is noteworthy in its bottom-up approach.

Purpose, the public benefit corporation where I now serve as president, has been assisting several of the above multi-stakeholder partnerships to find ways for the public to harness their power and engage on the world’s most pressing challenges. In 2015, as the official UN delegates wrestle with climate and development treaties, there is greater opportunity than ever before for ordinary people to be represented with them at the table alongside business, governments and NGOs. The new cross-sector organizations, approaches and interventions need your support and commitment. Act now, add your voice, and take your seat at the table.

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