Public-private partnerships key to achieving sustainable development goals

EUROPEAN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT WEEK: The sustainable development goals will not be achieved without fostering public-private partnerships, writes Nirj Deva.

By Nirj Deva

30 May 2016

The European Sustainable Development Week comes at a crucial time in our development agenda; a time when we are facing the largest migration crisis since the Second World War; a time when the UK is brooding over its relationship with the European Union; a time when we are striving to set the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into motion.

We have dispensed billions of dollars of aid into developing countries, and yet one billion people still live on less than €1.12 a day and more than 800 million do not have enough food to eat. Where the Millennium Development Goals have failed in their efforts to tackle the underlying causes of poverty, the SDGs are an attempt to redress past blunders and are universally more comprehensive than their predecessors.

However, such lofty ambitions as 'ending poverty, in all its forms, everywhere' come with a correspondingly high price tag; a funding gap of €2.25 trillion annually that we cannot expect taxpayers alone to bear.


Today, the private sector creates 90 per cent of the jobs and income for poor people in partner countries; it accounts for 84 per cent of GDP and provides a sustainable base for domestic resource mobilisation.

That is why last month's decision by the European Parliament to support my report calling for the mobilisation of private capital in the fight against global poverty was, I believe, a pivotal moment. The EU has at last recognised that the private sector is a key partner in wealth creation in the developing world.  

The European Commission has pledged to allocate €4.8bn by 2020 in order to leverage at least €66bn in investments from financial institutions and private investors in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. 170 projects worth almost €30bn are already in the pipeline. At the same time, a further €2bn will be earmarked to support local private sector development in partner countries.

The roadmap ahead is paved with challenges. An essential first step will be to create an environment in which private initiatives can flourish. Currently 60 per cent of the developing world's jobs are in micro, small and medium sized enterprises yet 70 per cent of them receive no help from financial institutions, despite requiring investment to grow and create jobs. 2.5 billion people in developing countries, especially women and young people, still remain excluded from the formal financial sector.

We need to help countries establish reliable banking systems and tax administrations. Public-private partnerships are well-positioned to trigger long-term private finance, generate innovation technologies, create business models based on sustainability and shared value; whilst developing mechanisms that hold the private sector accountable to public sector tendering processes, transparency and scrutiny.  

If they are to succeed, the SDGs will require the ambition, vision and commitment of our private sector and trade partners, donors, partner countries and civil society; moving forward, the EU has a critical role to play in bringing all the stakeholders together in forging a reliable partnership. 

In any period so defined by crises and austerity, it is understandable for people to question the validity of aid. But for every story of waste and corruption splashed across our newspapers, there are a thousand untold where people have been fed, life-threatening illnesses treated and anything from clear water to education provided. The European Sustainable Development Week is the ideal venue to make these stories known.


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