Sustainable development needs unlikely partnerships

By Monica Lillas and James Carey
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Kelly Lacy/Pexels

In a speech given at the World Economic Forum in January 2019, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres made the following critical observation about the state of the world:

If I had to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more and more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented, and if this is not reversed, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Movement of people, climate change, digitisation, trade, and the international economy all present challenges of a global nature, which require coordinated global responses.

Tackling these issues in a coordinated way is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. The Agenda provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries — developed and developing — in a global partnership.

Goal 17, ‘Partnerships for the Goals’, specifically focuses on working together, seeking to strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda, bringing together national governments, the international community, civil society, the private sector and other actors.

But how can we bring together people, who appear to be increasingly divided, be it along geographical, ideological, national, religious or cultural boundaries?

As a first step, open and respectful dialogue is essential. At the World Economic Forum, Mr Guterres continued ‘We need to understand the grievances and the root causes why large sectors of the population in different parts of the world disagree with us… we need to address those root causes and we need to show these people that we care for them’. Achieving this cannot be done by governments or international organisations alone. More space needs to be provided for actors to get involved in a revived multilateral model of engagement.

A key recent example of the revived multilateral model are the discussions and meetings between state officials and technology giants, including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Twitter. In the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, a renewed effort has been made to prevent harmful content from going viral on the web. A Twitter spokesperson described these meetings as a ‘critical opportunity to listen and learn from various heads of state and digital ministers from across the world’. As a result, many of these tech companies have made a commitment to sign a Christchurch Agreement and fund technology to better prevent mass dissemination of harmful content.

At a more local level, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has facilitated numerous public-private partnerships aimed at advancing the SDGs. One of these DFAT supported partnerships was Oxfam’s partnership with the Philippines Central Bank.

As set out in the the Oxfam Senate Submission report, the partnership saw the piloting of a new electronic payment system. This system assists poor Filipinos who were previously unable to transfer money safely and cheaply as well as making cashless payments for goods actually possible. This was the first of its kind in the Philippines and will have the transformative effect of providing access to financial services for an estimated 50,000 women and men across five provinces. This partnership is likely to assist in the achievement of SDG goals 1 (no poverty), SDG goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) and goal 10 (reduced inequalities).

Only by partnering together in this way — across sectors, cultures and borders — can we hope to achieve global sustainability, equitable development, and enhance human rights.


Nationally, the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) and the Australian Institute in International Affairs (AIIA) focus on bringing together all Australians to understand, critically consider and discuss issues of global importance, and look at how we can work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Established in 1946, the UNAA endeavours to inform, inspire and engage all Australians regarding the work, goals, and values of the United Nations to create a safer, fairer and more sustainable world. The AIIA is an independent, non-profit organisation promoting interest in and understanding of international affairs in Australia. Formed in 1924, it is a forum for discussion and debate, for collaborations, disseminating ideas, educating on international issues and collaborating.

Join the UNAA and the AIIA on 26 June 2019 for a night of networking and celebration of partnerships. Speakers for the night are:

Carlisle Richardson: an International Relations expert with particular focus on the UN, Development, including Sustainable Development, and Small Island Developing States. He has served as Ambassador of St. Kitts and Nevis to the United Nations, and as an Economic Affairs Officer of the United Nations. At the UN, he was involved in the negotiations for establishing the landmark Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the preparations for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Pera Wells was an Australian career diplomat from 1973 – 1998. She served overseas in Africa, in the Australian mission to the United Nations, New York, in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London and as Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, India. In 2000 she joined the World Federation of United Nations Associations in New York, where she was elected to be the Secretary-General from 2006–2009. She is currently the Vice-President of the Australian Council for Human Rights Education, a Research Fellow of Ormond College, University of Melbourne, Fellow of the Australia India Institute and on the Committee for Australians for War Powers Reform, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Economics and Peace.

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