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Pass the Parcel #3: Creating successful multi-stakeholder partnerships key to address the Global Goals – the experience of The Netherlands

October 23, 2015
Marcel Beukeboom

This post is written by FCRN member Marcel Beukeboom who heads the Food & Nutrition Security cluster at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Netherlands. It takes up where Emile Frison’s blog-post on the SDGs left off, and can also be read as a continuation of the first pass the parcel post by Corinna Hawkes. Marcel Beukeboom is currently co-chair of the Steering Committee of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), alternate member of the Global Agenda Council for Food Security and member of the Transformation Leaders Network of the World Economic Forum, and member of the Steering Committee of the Food & Business Knowledge Platform.

You can contact Marcel via member messaging here, (note you will need to be logged in as a member on the FCRN website). We also welcome comments below this post– again; you’ll need to be logged in.

In his blog-post on Sustainable Food Systems, Emile Frison asked for positive examples of initiatives that aim to transform our food systems and increase coherence between policies designed to enhance nutrition and those designed to promote sustainability. Both he and the first blogger in this series, Corinna Hawkes, made reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, a framework that is a huge step forward in our collective approach to sustainable development. But as so often, the proof of the SDG pudding will also be in the eating.

The holistic, integrated approach of our food system, for which Emile Frison advocates, is one side of the coin. Societies and economies have become so multi-faceted and interlinked, that single issue or sectoral solutions will no longer suffice. Once that reality has sunk in (and I think it has, the SDGs are universal and all-encompassing), one should go all the way. It is not only the implementation of policies that has to be multi-stakeholder, it is also the formulation that has to be all-inclusive.

In that respect, the process leading to the SDGs was a positive sign. Many stakeholders have taken the opportunity to submit ideas and proposals. Many broad working groups added value to what ultimately became the 17 goals as we now know them. Still, the final decision making was an intergovernmental process. The challenge at hand is to make their implementation as multi-stakeholder and widely endorsed as their formulation.

In The Netherlands, we try to put this theory into practice. Our policies to reach global food and nutrition security have been written after broad and open consultations. They take the global context into account (as such they fit neatly within the SDG framework) and build on the strengths and comparative advantages the Netherlands can bring. The resulting letter to parliament was signed by both the Minister for International Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister for Agriculture. As we speak, many stakeholders are involved in translating the policy into concrete action.

Multi-stakeholder partnerships are a distinctive feature of this action. We strongly believe in partnerships in which the four corners of the Dutch Diamond are represented: public sector, private sector, civil society and knowledge institutions. For these kind of partnerships to be successful, just signing a letter of intent is not enough. So much we have learned over the past years. The book of failures is rather thick. Has this discouraged the players that occupy this field? No, on the contrary. The learning curve has been steep, belief in the added value of working together has grown with the rising number of successful partnerships.

One of the early books with lessons learned is the evaluation of the so-called Schokland Agreements, a highly experimental set of partnerships originally launched to accelerate the Dutch contribution to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals. One of the recommendations of the study was to continue engaging in multi-stakeholder partnerships for development, because these partnerships have potential to bring innovation, new competencies and expertise to development initiatives. Some partnerships have resulted in long-term strategic and valuable partnerships for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While doing so one should not only look at Public-Private Partnerships but also consider other relevant partners, according to what the development challenges require.

The latest addition to the partnership library is a guide on multi-stakeholder partnerships, the MSP Guide, written by Jim Woodhill and Herman Brouwer of the Centre for Development Innovation. They have taken the learning a few steps further and also formulate practical guidance for anyone involved in creating multi-stakeholder partnerships. A manual that should be on the desk of anyone involved in development.

What I see from my position is that in many places in the world the different stakeholders are stuck in traditional patters, often looking at each other through the lens of old paradigms and prejudices. ‘Government is responsible’, ‘companies only think short-term’, ‘NGOs are always against’ and ‘academia can’t spell the word ‘applied’. It is this gridlock that has brought us where we are now, a long way from where we want to be in 2030. Now is the time to shrug off these old ‘ideological’ feathers and to start complementing each other, building on the unique competencies of each willing stakeholder. Well-designed partnerships hold the key.

So my question to the FCRN member taking this series forward is:

“In the design and implementation of initiatives aimed at realizing the SDGs, how can the abovementioned 'traditional' narrow views on the roles of different sectors best be tackled and how do you think initiatives such as multi-stakeholder partnerships should be designed to better involve stakeholders beyond the usual suspects?"

We are anticipating that the next blog-post will be published within two weeks time, so keep an eye out for it.

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