Expanded, innovative partnerships are needed to protect our planet and ensure sustainable and more equitable lives for all

Vietnam landscape

Larger scale collective and transformative action is arguably the only way forward to effectively adapt to, and where we still can, mitigate the increasing impacts of climate change. Catalysing partnerships and advocating for a multi-stakeholder approach is imperative to achieving any form of transformation and supporting equitable livelihoods for all people across the globe.

Speaking at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in Germany this week, SNV CEO Simon O’Connell highlighted the need and the potential of a partnership framework, where multi-stakeholders from across sectors co-deliver towards locally prioritised outcomes – tailored to context.

We spoke with Simon about why collaboration and partnerships across all of society’s actors is vital, and how these can be accelerated.

Q. There is consensus that protecting our planet can be done most effectively when we work together. What do you consider to be a multi-stakeholder approach to doing so, and why is it important?

Simon: Development actors have been talking about working better together for a long time, and numerous global alliances and partnership mechanisms already exist. We've also talked about participatory methodologies and bottom-up processes and paradigms for decades. But the ongoing reality is that rhetoric still doesn’t match the actual reality we see. My message at the Bonn Climate Conference this week reiterated that we need to step outside of our ‘project boxes’, move the focus from project timelines, and build longer term and broader partnerships. Accelerating action means changing how we work together.

Collectively, we should be mobilising large-scale partnerships toward outcome related areas and goals, as opposed to more linear, ‘us-to-them', output-focused structures. With so many tools available to us we have an opportunity to shift from outdated models of aid that have remained largely unchanged for decades, to one of co-creation. Approaches such as that of Global Public Investment, which are oriented towards ensuring the provision and distribution of public goods more fairly and effectively, need to be embraced. These require far greater inclusion and collaboration than a traditional north-south approach to aid and development. We must find new ways of catalysing these partnerships and mobilising larger-scale financing across development actors – inclusive of the private sector; to do so demands of the development, public, and private sectors to be far less territorial of the spaces we are in, and instead commit to new ways of more deeply working together.

Paramount to ensuring the changes and impacts that are so desperately needed is the drawing out and harnessing of ideas, aspirations, and opportunities from local contexts, which means a more comprehensive shifting of power to those with less access to opportunity. Our hyperconnected world provokes us to change our priorities to whole-system changes. A key element in enabling this is defining boundaries – when we understand the connections between the boundaries of local, national, and global spaces we can move away from operating in silos.

Q. There is a theme here on partnerships to impact whole-system change. What partnerships are needed to bring about action and deliver greater impact?

Simon: Funding and structures continue to be too rigid, linear, and short-term, and we therefore miss the opportunity to be nimble and agile. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we can adapt rapidly when we need to and that importance of flexibility; long-term partnerships are necessary for this, as is a 'triple nexus’ approach in more fragile contexts.

For example, at SNV we’re really appreciative of the Dutch government’s 10-year funding support and partnership for a programme in the Sahel, which includes a collaborating with the world’s leading agriculture research centre, Wageningen University and Research. The project, Agrifood Programme for Integrated Resilience and Economic Development of Sahel (also known as Pro-ARIDES), is working to address systemic challenges and increase the resilience, food security and incomes of farmer and agro-pastoralist households in the Sudano-Sahel zone of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. This is a huge opportunity to work alongside decentralised institutions and organisations to improve services, natural resource management, and support local economic development.

More extensive partnerships oriented towards enabling greater – and more innovative – access to finance are also critical. At SNV, we're also at the forefront of a number of more innovative financing mechanisms (together with Rabobank, World Bank, FMO Dutch Development Bank and others), which are so necessary if we're to see the volumes and types of financing that are so essential to addressing the climate challenges the world currently faces. Learnings from some of these programmes continue to show we need additional, smaller tranches of financing, tailored to contexts, with more appropriate de-risking mechanisms, if we're to avoid still leaving tens of millions behind.

Pro-ARIDES programme

Q. What are your recommendations to other NGOs also working to support the sustainable development goals and contribute toward a world with increased equity and improved livelihoods?

Simon: There is a significant need – and opportunity – for NGOs to increasingly embrace and harness the power of digitalisation and technology to deliver more positive impact. For example, digitalisation can enable information to be accessed more effectively, rapidly and inclusively, therefore supporting both climate adaptation and mitigation. The consequences of the climate crisis are not just contexts becoming hotter, colder, wetter, or drier; we’re seeing hugely more uncertainty and volatility, which is affecting vulnerable people living in the most fragile areas the most. Smallholder farmers who receive SMS updates about when to plant, harvest, and sell produce – such as within the Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) project in East Africa – can lead to increased yield and therefore incomes. Another example of the benefits of digitalisation can be seen in the Sustainable Technology Adaptation for Mali’s Pastoralists (STAMP) project, which provides satellite information services for pastoralist famers in the country, in partnership with the Netherlands Space Agency, to enable greater access to information about where to locate water and vegetation, as well as grazing conditions.

We need to be particularly mindful that there are still hundreds of millions who do not have access to digital tools and technologies, especially women. We therefore need to ensure that across private, public, and NGO sectors we are building long-term partnerships locally, nationally, and globally that steward an outcome-related approach that is gender-sensitive and inclusive. The more we collectively prioritise and work toward effective partnerships, the more we can achieve the changes needed to protect the earth’s resources and ensure sustainable and more equitable livelihoods for all.

Ultimately, expanded, innovative partnerships are needed if we're to step up in protecting our planet and ensuring sustainable and more equitable lives for all.