How Businesses Can Help Deliver On The Sustainable Development Goals

Achieving the SDGs will require the private sector to work in authentic partnership with civil society and resist going back to business as usual.

Through an incredibly participatory process, the United Nations brought the world together to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All 193 Member States agreed in September to an ambitious agenda of 17 new global development goals that aim to end poverty, promote well-being and protect the planet.

Yet I find myself wondering whether we will go back to business as usual, or will the SDGs really spur us to collaborate between sectors to achieve real change by 2030?

Many have criticized the SDGs for including too many issues — 17 goals with 169 targets — raising the risk that we could splinter off into our silos to work toward our “favorite” goal, forgetting the importance of long-term policy changes through strong local institutions. Goal 16 addresses this systemic, societal change:

Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

Unfortunately, the private sector and local civil society often find themselves at odds on issues of accountable governance, social inclusion and peacebuilding; but meaningful joint investment to achieve Goal 16 are important now more than ever.
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The Intersection of Politics and Civil Society in Albania: Collaborative Policy to Support the Sector is Possible

Fall_of_Communism_in_AlbaniaTwenty-five years after the collapse of the Albanian communist government, Albania continues to experience the growing pains of a democratic transition. Throughout the years, the presence of a strong and active civil society has been a key factor in the democratization of Albania. Yet, civil society in Albania has continued to struggle to maintain their significance as advocates for citizens’ concerns.

Historically, civil society in the Balkans has been at the center of progressive change; dozens of prominent activists in the region have used civil society as a springboard for political careers. However, their entry into politics has proven to be controversial, at times even weakening or detrimental to the organizations left behind. These incidents have also triggered a broader debate about the intersection of politics, civil society and European aid in the region. Still, others argue these cases show the vitality of civil society, validating its influence and its successful penetration into politics.

Nonetheless, the cases of using civil society as a catalyst to push political agendas have shaken many citizens’ belief in civil-society initiatives. This consequently creates the opportunity for those against civil society to disenfranchise and disenable productive civil society spaces. In addition, the nuances of the bureaucratic legal and regulatory frameworks have been affecting civil society’s development and operation in the country. As a result, needed reforms and democratization have been slow to unfold within this political dynamic.

This has yet to stop Partners Albania’s efforts to address the most pressing issues for civil society development and citizen participation. Partners Albania has developed new frameworks that contribute to increased cooperation between civil society actors, and both local and national governments. By promoting new legislation that legitimizes and sanctions citizen participation processes, and by utilizing participatory methods to implement current policies, Partners Albania has made strides to integrate change and conflict management in a meaningful way. Their methods have encouraged new models of participatory governance and cooperative planning.
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Introducing “Partners Global” – More Than the Sum of Our Parts

Think Global, Act Local is a well-known slogan and call to action that asks us to be mindful of our collective impact. All Politics is Local is a truism that reminds us that citizens get most involved with issues that affect their daily lives. Local First has become common jargon in the development field to reinforce the values of local ownership over solutions and assistance programs. With all the (warranted) importance placed on this “local” perspective of bringing about change – what is the place for “global” action? What is the value of “Global Civil Society?”

Partners GlobalWe have been asking ourselves this question as our network celebrates our 25th Anniversary this year with the launch of our new brand: Partners Global, (formerly Partners for Democratic Change International) consolidating our two hubs in Washington D.C. and Brussels. As a network now made up of 19 local autonomous organizations working for peaceful and democratic change, we have been jointly investing in local leaders, local organizations and local solutions since 1989. Beginning with our first member in Partners Poland, to our newest member in Partners El Salvador, we represent a rich diversity of local initiatives and perspectives; however, we also recognize the need to strengthen ourselves as a global platform. This is not always an easy undertaking when working across cultures, time zones and languages; but the evolving challenges to peace and democracy throughout the world require solidarity, cooperation and action from a Global Civil Society. Why is this global orientation so important?

  • Global Impact by Connecting Local Expertise: Our 19 member organizations have worked on 5 continents and more than 50 countries. We have developed and then shared many programs with each other throughout the years: anti-corruption expertise from Romania, extractive industry conflict resolution from Peru, participatory budgeting from Jordan and countering violent extremism from Yemen. We conscientiously translate our national expertise and experience into global knowledge, and continually reflect together to transform our work.
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Fostering Peace and Transforming Conflict, One Barrio at a Time

Many know Bogotá as a model of urban development in Latin America. In 1993, the city was in crisis, with a recorded homicide rate of 81 per 100,000 inhabitants. To put this figure in perspective, in 2014 there were 328 murders in New York City, or about 4 per 100,000 inhabitants. Over the next few years, however, a series of progressive mayors implemented innovative policies to fight crime and violence. For example, Antanas Mockus sent mimes into the city to use comedy to cajole residents into coexisting peacefully, while Enrique Peñalosa constructed miles of bicycle lanes to influence positive and healthy social behaviors. By 2014, Bogotá enjoyed one of Latin America’s lowest murder rates and citizens took pride in their beautiful and safe city.

While this transformation was certainly dramatic, many would argue that it simply served to contain crime and violence in the city’s most marginalized barrios. These geographically-isolated and precarious communities cling to high mountain peaks on the city’s northern and southern outskirts. Their inhabitants are generally rural refugees fleeing the country’s bloody civil war who constructed makeshift shelters wherever they could find room. As a result, just a few neighborhoods account for an outsized percentage of Bogotá’s poverty and crime. For example, just six of the city’s 109 neighborhoods accounted for 55% of the city’s homicides in 2014.

Photo by D.R. 2006 Caleb Harris

Photo by D.R. 2006 Caleb Harris

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Yemen Youth Lead

Before the uprising in Yemen I worked as a Computer Engineer in Sana’a, Aden, Mukalla and Hodiedah. It was a good opportunity and I was happy to have a stable job in a country where unemployment is so high. On my free time I would volunteer with civil society organizations. Increasingly, I started to love my volunteer work, more than I did my job. When the revolution finally came to Yemen in 2011, I knew then that my place was with the youth and the civil organizations that demanded reform. During that time, I quit my job and started working full time with youth and civil society organizations.

Since then I have personally witnessed the fearlessness, hope and commitment that the youth of Yemen have to offer. Through my work with adolescence I know firsthand that Yemen’s true transformation will come through the efforts of youth—youth whom will rise to the occasion to lead within their communities and government. During my time with Saferworld, I had the opportunity to work in the Amplifying Youth Voices program, where I met a young woman by the name of Zuha Yassin; she was one of those young people that believed she could change the world. I loved her energy, and I truly believe that it is young people like her who can make a difference.

Angry, Young and Poor

Youth have always been the engine of civil society activities in Yemen. They have worked tirelessly as vital volunteers to bridge the gaps between communities by providing aid to society’s most needy. They communicate and share their ideas and stories with each other and are priceless advocates for various causes.

Unfortunately youth have also played a role in fueling conflicts as well. This was due to the neglect they faced from local governments before the 2011 protests and uprisings. There were no sufficient funds to support them from neither national nor international donors, or even from the private sector. To make matters worse, extremist groups used religion and other youth-centered social activities, such as sport outings, trips and charity work in poor communities, to attract at-risk Yemeni youth.

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Informing the Citizenry to End Corruption


Weeding out corruption and ending transnational organised crime requires restoring accountability and transparency within all levels of society. Recently, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari visited President Obama at the White House to discuss matters of security, economic development and corruption in the Nigerian government. During his visit, the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to assertively tackle corruption in Nigeria. He also advised President Buhari to appoint only “seasoned technocrats” to head key sectors of the economy. 

President Buhari made clear to his U.S. government hosts that he would not appoint a cabinet until September, explaining that he needed time to root out corruption before naming his ministers. “The fact that I now seek Obama’s assistance in locating and returning $150 billion in funds stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials is testament to how badly Nigeria has been run,” President Buhari recently wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Indeed, President Buhari has a large order to fill; public safety and economic progress in Nigeria relies heavily on who he appoints, but most importantly on his commitment to accountability and transparency. However, the weight of this responsibility is not squarely on his or the future cabinet’s shoulders alone. Nigerian citizens and the civil society organizations that represent them have a role to play in Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign. Collectively, civil society and the public must help identify corrupt practices, gather data to identify holes in the system and develop and implement joint solutions with the government. With proactive and productive partnerships with the Nigerian government agencies and civil society, President Buhari has many willing partners to dismantle the corruption embedded in the Nigerian governance system.

One approach to diagnosing and treating corruption is the development of partnerships between civil society and the Nigerian government agencies, such as those created through the Access Nigeria (AccessNG) project. Working with the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Crimes Commission (ICPC), National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), the project has stressed the importance of transparency and accountability within these particular prosecuting agencies, since 2014.

The initiative has trained and deployed twelve civil society groups to develop engagement plans and cultivate positive and productive relations with the four agencies. For example, our partners, the Innovative Strategy for Human Development (ISHD), requested information on cases being prosecuted by NAPTIP to improve their own work on the prevention of trafficking in persons. Despite bureaucratic challenges and delays, ISHD was able to work with the NAPTIP South West regional office in Lagos to collect information on prosecutions in that region. Sustained interaction and trust between the agency and the civil society partner at the regional level made this interaction possible.

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Beyond the Fracking Wars: Reaching Consensus with Multi-Stakeholder Frameworks

This is the second installment of a two-part series that was originally published by the International Law News, Volume 44, Number 2, 2015. © 2015 by the American Bar Association. View the first installment here

Creating Conditions Above and Below Ground for Unconventional Oil and Gas Development through a Governance and Sustainability Framework


In the Southern Cone, regulatory frameworks, public policy initiatives, and opportunities for public-private partnerships are neither harmonized nor harmonious. South America shows different approaches to government regulation over hydrocarbons and ownership schemes over minerals, as well as their development and management, government-private sector relations and development, access to technology, regulations, implementation of industry sustainability standards, and different jurisdictions’ approaches to their own quality of governance and rule of law. Creating opportunities for leveraging, engaging, and innovation will require that the immediate future of unconventional oil and gas development in South America be characterized by development on three fronts:

1) a strategic approach to hemispheric policy development, diplomacy, and cooperation;
2) understanding the importance of social licensing processes and how that could affect the private-sector bottom line; and
3) the role of the legal profession in these developments.

Hemispheric Multi-Stakeholder Engagement

Strategic engagement and dialogue within the Americas among those who share the wealth of unconventional oil and gas resources will prove to be beneficial for the region and hemisphere at different levels. So-called energy diplomacy can have a direct impact on the establishment of solid dialogue and diplomatic relations that leverage good policy, regulatory frameworks, and industry best practices supporting energy independency and/or efficiency (depending on a country’s needs). When it comes to preventing and/ or mitigating the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts of hydraulic fracking, one company’s best sustainability practices or even research initiatives trying to understand the true environmental impact of this activity are not enough. A multi-stakeholder approach, one that brings together governments, the oil and gas industry, research and academic institutions, industry associations, investors, shareholders, and even NGOs, can be the catalyst for leveraging best sustainability practices, investing in serious academic research that identifies the true impact (even the negatives) of hydraulic fracking, and providing standards for prevention, mitigation, and further technological and research development. This, in turn, will leverage international and regional standards that governments, the private sector, and even NGOs can agree upon to integrate as important for their own operations and activities. At the same time, it will serve to create the conditions for operating within a governance and rule-of-law framework.

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Moving Forward Together

Improving Citizen Security with Constructive Conversations

Ray Shonholtz, the founder of Partners for Democratic Change (Partners), once told me that the majority of our work is about having ‘adult conversations’. But, what exactly did he mean by this? Ray explained in a way that only Ray could; “Partners’ role as a facilitator of conversations among leaders tackling complex public policy challenges and addressing major conflicts in their communities, would require the ability to listen actively and support constructive problem solving, with techniques such as the ‘yes, and…’ approach.” While sometimes difficult and counter-intuitive, the “yes, and… approach” requires acknowledgement of multiple perspectives on the same issue without discounting any of them.

Since 2010, we at Partners alongside our colleagues at Partners West Africa have been exploring ways in which to utilize this approach specifically for addressing challenges in the emerging security governance field. This past month, we put some of our ideas to the test with our colleagues from Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) in Sierra Leone and CLEEN Foundation in Nigeria. With the support of the Global Peace and Development Charitable Trust and National Endowment for Democracy, we assembled diverse civil society groups, public servants and uniformed leaders to discuss issues of security governance, accountability and performance in both countries. We focused on four key ideas:

Creating a Shared Vocabulary – Gone are the days of working in isolation to tackle security challenges. All actors recognize the necessity of working together. But just how and from what basis they can collaborate is not always entirely clear. To help address this challenge Partners created the Security: Governance, Accountability and Performance (SGAP) Toolkit. The toolkit includes a Framework and Guide designed to aid assessment and dialogue around security governance issues.

Developing Opportunities for In-Group Consultation – Civil society is not a monolith and neither is the security sector. There are a wide range of opinions and perspectives across these groups that require negotiation before they can successfully enter into dialogue with one another. For example, our partner in Mexico, Centro de Colaboracion Civica (CCC), designed a program to help galvanize diverse civil society organizations (CSOs) to work with the Mexican government on common citizen security issues. This approach helped leaders identify their shared interests, minimize infighting amongst the CSOs and presented a more united voice to the government.

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South America! Fracking’s Next Destination!

Aligning Conditions Below and Above Ground for Unconventional Oil and Gas Development within a Governance and Sustainability Framework

photo credit: burnt orange report

photo credit: burnt orange report

The Shale Revolution Phenomenon Below Ground

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” the process of injecting sand, water, and chemicals into shale rocks to crack them open and release the hydrocarbons trapped inside, is already a big topic of conversation in South America because the promises of fracked energy are so great. These include job creation, lower carbon emissions, achieving energy independency and efficiency, and industry development. At the same time, this projected bonanza does not come concern free. Critics in the United States and elsewhere challenge this new phenomenon by claiming that “fracking” pollutes the water, ground, and air and holds the potential for seismic movements, all leading them to affirm that these costs outweigh the benefits. Alex Prudhomme, HydrofrackingWhat Everyone Needs to Know (2014).

The development of hydrocarbons trapped within underground shale formations generated the so-called shale revolution phenomenon that led many to affirm that shale may be the most transformational technology advancement in the twenty-first century. It has transformed the Western Hemisphere into the new center for oil and gas production while lowering both gas prices and greenhouse gas emissions (Robert A. Manning, The Shale Revolution and the New Geopolitics of Energy (2014). This paramount development is challenging geopolitics worldwide and within the Western Hemisphere in particular with respect to regulatory frameworks, public-private partnerships, multi-stakeholder engagement, environmental concerns, and matters of diplomacy and national security.

In practical terms, the shale gas and oil phenomenon, driven by the impressive size of proven reserves, is revolutionizing the global energy landscape, positioning the Western Hemisphere in a unique situation for resources exploration and development. Americas Society/Council of the Americas, Shale Gas Development in Latin America(2014), A close look at the 2013 United States Energy Administration report maps the presence of 137 shale formations in 41 countries outside the United States and across regions. According to the report, two-thirds of the assessed, technically recoverable shale gas resource is concentrated in six countries: the United States, China, Argentina, Algeria, Canada, and Mexico, and the top 10 countries from this list account for over 80 percent of the currently assessed, technically recoverable shale gas resources of the world. U.S. Energy Administration, Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources: AAssessment of 137 Shale Formations in 41 Countries Outside the United States (2013).

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