Since 2015, when the UN established a set of shared goals for achieving sustainable development, the development community has been excited but also wary. While the ambition contained within the Global Goals is high, the challenge is vast.
What is more, we face a moving target. In particular, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by rapid technological advances, has the potential to change everything. While there will be growth and opportunities, the impact on the world’s poorest could be disastrous. The already demanding targets will become even harder to achieve.
Need for surprising alliances
We do not yet know just how things will unfold. However, one thing is for sure: the scale and complexity of the change to come will mean that no one sector will be able to manage it alone. We’re going to need some surprising alliances that bring different sectors together if we are to overcome these challenges.
Civil society organisations, with their capacity for increasing accountability and promoting participation, can play a critical partnership role with both governments and businesses. By sharing information, resources and capabilities we can achieve things together that we never could alone.
At Plan International, we’re already busy convening strategic partnerships with businesses to improve the position of girls within the poorest countries.
There is a direct motivation for businesses to get involved. Studies have shown that investing in gender equality can have a direct impact on economic growth. For example, the World Bank found that closing the education gap between girls and boys would lead to lifetime earnings increases equivalent to an increase in annual GDP growth rates of about 1.5%.
Not just Corporate Social Responsibility
Cross-sector partnerships are essential to achieving the scale and impact we need to see. These partnerships can unleash innovative ways of working, mobilising expertise and hard to reach resources, and create shared accountability in an increasingly complex world.
Cross-sector partnerships are essential to achieving the scale and impact we need to see
There is a real opportunity to develop new approaches to partnering that go beyond philanthropy towards generating shared value and each sector has a valuable role to play.
Building partnership models which are long lasting, scalable, transformative, and which create shared value will be key. The rapid transformation heralded by the Fourth Industrial Revolution will demand new ways of working together.
Already, traditional boundaries between the sectors have become blurred, with a less direct role for governments and a wider governance role for business and civil society. In the context of global instability and economic transformation, there are new opportunities and responsibilities for each sector. This also creates a shared set of interests in achieving the UN’s Global Goals, not least in Sustainable Development Goal 17 which is about creating partnerships for the Goals.
Shared value in east Africa
At Plan International, we are already working closely with Accenture and others to lay foundations for transformative social and economic change. Developing countries face massive challenges with youth unemployment. As many as 2/3 of people aged 15 to 24 are unemployed or in irregular employment. The impact of global economic change is likely to exacerbate the problem, creating a potential source of social unrest and political instability.
We understand that it is also an opportunity. If nations and institutions can harness the power and resourcefulness of young people, they can be part of the solution to one of the world’s most pressing problems.
In Uganda, the A Working Future initiative was co-created by Accenture Development Partnerships and Plan International to support youth economic empowerment through innovative collaboration across all sectors.
With funding and technical support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, a wide ranging partnership – including a number of local businesses– has been formed. It provides young people in rural Uganda with access to financial services, teaching them critical skills, and linking them to work opportunities.
The private sector has been invaluable at every stage, from the design of the programme to the delivery of training. Combined with Plan International’s reach, relationships with communities, technical expertise and local networks, over 12,000 young people have benefitted from the programme. The participating youth have seen a 621% increase in average monthly income and a 631% increase in savings. Working with companies like Accenture, we’re now scaling-up the model to bring skills and jobs to 100,000 young people in Uganda, Zambia, Tanzania and Egypt.
This success is the result of bringing together strategic partners from different sectors at global and local level while being able to adapt to local contexts and find ways of working that create sustainable change for all.
Deepening partnerships in an uncertain world
Collaboration was a core objective of A Working Future from the start, more than simply benefiting from each other’s resources and capabilities. The initiative is a model for the kind of partnerships I believe will be increasingly important in coming years.
Different sectors should be open minded about working together
As the boundaries between sectors become blurred, we need to find common ground. Different sectors should be open minded about working together, not afraid to take risks to collaborate in new ways, and to ensure the lessons of these partnership models – good and bad - are shared widely.
As 3,000 global leaders meet this week in Davos to reflect on how together we can create responsive and responsible leadership in a changing world, we hope to share some of the new models of partnership we have been pioneering. We will share our insights on the changing dynamics between sectors, and how we can work together to transform the lives of 100 million girls, our new ambition.
The times are uncertain, the challenges huge, but the task is one that we cannot afford to duck.