Second IOE-KAS Workshop on UN Engagement with the Private Sector - Auslandsbüro New York
The conference kicked off with introductory remarks and setting the scene by IOE Secretary-General, Roberto Suárez Santos, and KAS New York Executive Director, Andrea E. Ostheimer. The Resident Coordinator for Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee, subsequently provided an overview of his work and collaboration between UN and the private sector as a best practice. Two rounds of dialogue then took place on specific questions between the Resident Coordinators of Togo, DRC, Indonesia and Kenya and representatives of IOE members, employer and business membership organisations (EBMOs), from Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Uganda and Egypt.
This initiative constitutes a follow-up to an IOE communication addressed to UN leadership on behalf of IOE’s global membership in early April 2020. This communication expressed the willingness of IOE to engage with UN RCs at local level and set out IOE’s added value as a partner, particularly in the context of UN Reform, the Decade of Action and COVID-19 response. Chief among IOE attributes are its global representativity of businesses, large and small, across all sectors and in almost 150 countries; experience and expertise in socio-economic policy advocacy at the international level and on the ground; and in-depth knowledge of the specific challenges and needs of the local business community.
For the New York office of KAS the cooperation with IOE falls into the broader context of not only promoting the concept of a social market economy, but also to support a multi-stakeholder approach in striving to further the SDGs, and in particular Goal 16. The latter’s aim to provide rule of law as well as policy and governance frameworks conducive for sustainable development are key for a private sector that has taken on its social responsibilities.
The main takeaway is that reaching the SDGs successfully necessitates much more collaborative action through PPPs and innovative ways of working together across the UN, private sector and government. A new approach towards multilateralism and an improved way of working across stakeholder groupings has great potential to grasp opportunities and create added value across the board.
This series of dialogues is very useful to establish what is for some a first contact between UN Resident Coordinators and national employers’ organisations; the participants encouraged and applauded this initiative while urging IOE and KAS to continue this work.
The UN system is complex, containing many different agencies with various specializations and there is a general lack of awareness in the private sector of the UN’s functioning, structure and how and with whom to engage best. On the other hand, there is also a lack of awareness within the UN of the different private sector actors and how to engage them; often collaboration happens with individual companies and on particular initiatives instead of across the board and with smaller companies.
Collaboration and dialogue between UN Resident Coordinators and national employers’ organisations is fragmented and variable across countries, there is little exchange of information and work is done in silos. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are still not the norm and the participants pointed to causes such as too much red tape, lack of understanding, not enough regular interaction, no dedicated frameworks for information sharing, but also just a lack of awareness of the potential that is there.
Finally, and depending on the context, corruption, informality, poverty and lack of government coordination are significant barriers for enhanced cooperation between national governments and the private sector.
However, there are some inspiring initiatives taking place which are very successful and could be replicated elsewhere. The example of Kenya and the collaboration taking place there between the private and public sectors was lauded as very successful and should be used as a best practice. It is an example that also highlights the conducive role the UN can play as a facilitator and risk mitigator.
In the ambit of the exchange, both the UN Resident Coordinators and the employers’ organisation representatives agreed that they are committed, interested and motivated to push this agenda further to develop closer relationsand more regular collaboration with each other. In this view several recommendations and lessons learned came out of this session:
- Developing a regular and robust dialogue through a streamlined process, dedicated focal points, standardized rules of engagement on national level and common themes of interest would greatly strengthen the potential for PPPs.
- The example in Kenya, presented by the UN Resident Coordinator, points to a new type of multilateralism which works for all parties. It involved new structures and frameworks, such as the SDG Philanthropy Platform, and by that achieved impressive results. This example ould be promoted in other countries and could be adapted and replicated.
- The private sector should not be viewed only as a source of funding but rather as a genuine partner. They should be involved at all stages as they can bring expertise (innovation and technology) to complement the work of the UN in addressing the many socio-economic challenges.
- The UN should step away from a funding and financing approach and move to an investment approach as evidenced by the Kenya example; in this regard it is very important to make the SDGs attractive to the private sector as an investment with a return on investment (ROI) and break down the information to make it attractive and clear.
- The UN has a powerful role to play as a convener and facilitator with its reputation and extensive network; but new approaches require new ways of thinking about the role of the UN.
- The UN and the private sector speak different languages and they need to familiarize themselves much more with each other, break down the barriers of collaboration through regular contacts and interaction
- Employers’ organisations are key in promoting the policy changes, the legislative frameworks that are necessary to tackle the many systemic changes that are required for developing the economy. Employers’ organisations need to engage their membership and network in order to reach SMEs who present a large potential and opportunity. They need to promote the work of the UN and explain to their membership the potential mutual benefits of PPPs.
Examples from Kenya’s experiences in PPPs:
In Kenya, the UN SDG Platform has stepped in to provide support for staffing of the NBCC secretariat to ensure that 100% of donations go to the respond to urgent needs of the Ministry of Health and not a penny to overhead.