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Why the creation of successful partnerships is essential for the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

31st December 2019

I find the concept of partnerships an interesting and vital one for the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is mainly due to the multiple social and business relationships that shape and modify the partnership process and determine partner responsibility. Partnerships require systemic innovation within differing organizational structures and goals across sectors and industries. This makes each partnership unique and challenging – rather than a dull and repetitive process; it also, of course, makes the global implementation of the SDGs a particularly difficult process.

Blurred sectors

Understanding partnerships requires re-thinking traditional assumptions about the roles of government, business and civil society in global co-operation. Public and private organizations do not operate in clearly marked public and private boundaries, as is often depicted in social media and literature. Rather, the public and private sector interrelate. For instance, businesses and non-profit organizations both become part of the delivery service process for government programs.

In my new book, SDG17: Partnerships for the Goals, I examine group responsibility among interdependent and “blurred sectors” in partnerships. Scholars suggest that interaction between sectors is growing with the commercialization of non-profit and for-benefit enterprises. (For-benefit enterprises comprise the “fourth” sector – a hybrid of non-profit and private sectors.) Increasingly, for-benefit enterprises make profits through their programs to benefit society. The role of this blurred sector has been underplayed in partnerships. Since the world often co-creates to foster problem solving, partnerships will reshape and redefine how the blurred sectors of government, business, for-benefit enterprises and civil society work together or apart.

Need for regulation

Critical thinking about partnerships can shed light on how business, government and civil society can adapt the SDGs in self-serving ways that generate disruptive social conditions. Disruptive social conditions in partnerships foster opportunities for exploitation from a variety of actors. Stronger regulatory frameworks would help to improve partnership engagement strategies and success.

Furthermore, better oversight through the partnership process, rather than just at the initial stages, would lead towards a more systematic and integrated performance approach for monitoring diverse partnership logistics. A more comprehensive, systematic and comparative view of cross-sector partnerships in social and environmental responsibility is required for the implementation of the SDGs.

Public/Private Partnerships/Role of Business

Often, partnership concerns are predominately focused on opportunistic business goals and benefits rather than the systemic partnering process itself. Implementing the SDGs requires a critical examination of the public issues and the project’s context for temporary and long-term public-private partnerships.

Moreover, partnerships are often disregarded by some practitioners and scholars as an ineffective means to engage effectively with diverse stakeholders, due to the strong role and leadership of the private sector. Unsurprisingly, business is often viewed as a mechanism which provides higher efficiency than the public sector and fosters corporate and industry best practices for project success. This may be a consequence of blurred sectors as discussed above and the significant use of business practices and tools for improving public performance. Improving public-private partnership performance will require governments to take a key role in leading and governing the project resources in the partnership, while the private sector delivers the services.

In conclusion

There is little published about complex partnership performance logistics and multi-level governance across sectors. This book examines various types of partnerships in making progress towards achieving the SDGs and for improving partnership performance. The purpose of the book is to challenge and broaden student and practitioners’ partnership knowledge; and to examine various partnership types, strategies, trends, models, collaborative knowledge creation processes, activities and patterns.

Monica Thiel is at University of International Business and Economics, China. She is the author of Partnerships for the Goals in our Concise Guides to the UN Sustainable Development Goals series.

Monica Thiel

University of International Business and Economics, China

Monica Thiel