SDG 17 emphasizes the importance of partnerships for development. Much is made of the need to mobilise trillions of dollars through partnerships in many sectors and places around the world. Referring specifically to partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society, SDG17 calls on everyone to work together to achieve the other 16 SDGs. This article describes some emerging trends in partnerships; refers to Grow Asia, an example of a multi-stakeholder partnership platform; and explores some of the many benefits of partnerships.
The concept of partnerships is relatively easy to understand: working together, pooling resources, sharing risks, and enjoying bigger successes. And the benefits are widely accepted to include greater impact and scale, smarter solutions to challenging problems and fewer unintended consequences (which can be a risk of well-intentioned projects that are developed without consultation).
However, partnerships are often much harder to put into practice. Mutual understanding takes time and trust can be a significant barrier to progress, or even to getting started; common goals can be hard to identify; and learning to speak one another’s language, or jargon, is often a frustrating prerequisite for successful partnerships. This language barrier is particularly evident when partnerships are formed between different sectors, such as business and government, or business and civil society. The process of partnering can often serve to highlight the differences between these sectors, rather than unite them towards a common goal.
The common goal that brings together Grow Asia’s partners is to reach 10 million smallholder farmers by 2020, by improving their incomes, crop yields and the environmental sustainability of their farms by 20%. Grow Asia supports partnerships in five countries – Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia – and in each of these countries, partners collaborate on projects to make crop value chains more inclusive of the smallholder, more productive and more sustainable.
It is because of these barriers and challenges that we are seeing a rise in partnership platforms which guide and support organisations towards effective collaborations and cultivating strong working relationships. Almost like brokers, these partnerships come in two main forms. Firstly, platforms that focus on convening partners and making the initial introductions, whilst others remain engaged throughout the partnership, offering support, guidance and best practice, to help the fledgling partnerships to reach maturity.
Grow Asia is an example of the latter type of partnership platform. Catalysed by the World Economic Forum and endorsed by the ASEAN Secretariat, Grow Asia convenes and supports multi-stakeholder partnerships for sustainable and inclusive agriculture. The common goal that brings together Grow Asia’s partners is to reach 10 million smallholder farmers by 2020, by improving their incomes, crop yields and the environmental sustainability of their farms by 20%. Grow Asia supports partnerships in five countries – Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Cambodia – and in each of these countries, partners collaborate on projects to make crop value chains more inclusive of the smallholder, more productive and more sustainable. Grow Asia currently engages over 260 partners on 34 projects in those five countries, reaching over 450,000 smallholders.
As a partnership platform, Grow Asia does not implement the value chain projects. Instead, Grow Asia brings together the partners who design, invest in and implement the projects. It is a subtle difference (between implementing and facilitating a partnership to implement) and to illustrate how Grow Asia does this, its activities can be broadly summarised as:
- Setting up new partnerships in-country, bringing in new partners to existing partnerships, coordinating meetings and maintaining momentum for partnerships, trouble-shooting and supporting the set-up of in-country secretariats for the partnerships. Where country partnerships exist, we work closely with them to help strengthen them, bring in new partners and support solutions to scaling them up.
- Convening and brokering partnerships, bringing together stakeholders from government, private sector, and civil society. Grow Asia brings different stakeholders together in meetings, events, and dialogues, and engages them in exclusive fora, such as the Grow Asia Business Council and the Civil Society Council, which provide a stakeholder-specific environment in which to discuss agriculture in the stakeholders’ own terms and language.
- Supporting best practice and innovation, through a wide range of research, dissemination of models, pilots and portals to facilitate learning across value chains, or countries, or partnerships. One of the challenges in development is reaching scale – impact, reach and geographic – and Grow Asia is set up to invest in innovations which could help to scale-up some solutions. For example, Grow Asia can explore innovative finance models and the use of digital platforms, along with other technologies, as potential media for increasing the impact of interventions.
- Sharing progress by providing partners and project leads the tools with which to measure their impacts in the areas of farmer livelihood, farm productivity and environmental sustainability. Grow Asia collates the quantitative and qualitative data from the various value chain projects in the region and publishes the information in reports, online and via presentations.
Grow Asia is just one example of a multi-stakeholder platform. Other platforms may differ in terms of the extent of the support that they lend to the partnerships, depending on their resources and mandate. It is important to understand the limitations and constraints of these platforms – a partnership platform can convene, guide and support, but rarely is it set up to do (or deliver) the projects themselves. The accountability for action should lie with the partners, not the platform. This is a critical dynamic to garner commitment and guarantee ownership. In addition, it is the partners, not the platform, who are encouraged to co-invest in the projects. Occasionally, there is a role for donors to catalyse the projects, but the longer-term and more sustainable model is when partners have financially invested in the projects’ success.
Another consideration with partnership platforms is that they cannot guarantee successful outcomes. In helping to create an enabling environment and setting up the partnerships for success, it is ultimately dependent on factors such as leadership, the presence of clear objectives, transparency and mutual respect, and the ability of all partners to think beyond their own interests.
SDG17 specifically addresses the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships for development. Whilst there are many benefits to be gained from partnerships, they can be challenging and require a trusted advisor or broker to support the partnering process. To this extent, we can expect to see many more platforms, such as Grow Asia, being established to convene organisations and pool resources for a sustainable future.