Why are partnerships important for sustainable development? Why can’t development actors simply go it alone? Why not strive to be everything for everyone: the “one stop shop” for development assistance? Guest blogger, Cameron Diver, Deputy Director-General at The Pacific Community (SPC), gives us an insight into the potential of partnerships.

In today’s crowded international development space and with extra pressure on traditional ODA, I am convinced that partnerships are vital. Partnerships provide the means to access strategic capability and networks that would otherwise take significant time and resources to develop. Partnerships provide greater visibility for some of the major sustainable development challenges we face today. Partnerships help reduce sterile competition and increase cooperation for the benefit of countries and their populations. Partnerships are platforms for resource mobilisation and leveraging of existing funding. Most importantly, partnerships provide a critical nexus between developing countries and development agencies, so assistance can truly be tailored to their context and priorities in the right balance with those expressed by development partners who are often geographically, and thus contextually, removed from the in-the-field reality.

The Pacific Community (SPC), the intergovernmental organisation I currently serve, was founded on partnership. In 1947, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, Australia, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America established SPC to “encourage and strengthen international cooperation in promoting the economic and social welfare and advancement of the peoples” of the Pacific. Seven decades later that partnership embraces 26 Member States, including all 22 Pacific Island countries and territories. It has seen SPC characterised as a “parliament of the South Pacific Peoples”, “the mind of the region [and] its conscience as well” and its inclusive brand of regionalism hailed as a means “to discover the mind of the Pacific in a way that […] more traditional, bilateral contacts cannot discern”. This longstanding partnership allows SPC to truly stake a claim to being a regional development community in and for the Pacific.

The development challenges we face today are huge. If we truly subscribe to the 2030 Agenda, then SDG 17 is key: effective, inclusive partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society with a central focus on peoples and the planet.

At COP 23, an exciting new partnership was announced: a Regional Pacific NDC Hub dedicated to concrete climate action with and for Pacific island countries. This collaborative partnership, initiated by GIZ, SPC, the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Regional Environment Programme, the Global Green Growth Institute and the NDC Partnership, and currently funded by Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom, is an example of a regionally focused multilateral partnership whose priorities and action are informed by the highest level of international ambition translated into country-level action.

This is an illustration of why cooperation should trump competition. In translating the ambition of global development agendas into regional and country programmes, competition would simply not serve the needs of the developing world, nor those of development partners who increasingly seek synergies between the multiple agencies they fund. Brokering partnerships in areas where we may not have capability creates added global value and strategic advantage. It also highlights the fact that prioritising, pinpointing areas where we are truly ‘the best’ or ‘best able’ to provide development assistance, thereby avoiding the pitfall of being a mile wide yet only an inch deep, facilitates the strategic positioning of an organisation and the identification of the right partners.

Last year in Davos, United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres made a strong call for : “…a new generation of partnerships, partnerships not only with governments, not only with civil society and academia but equally partnerships with the business community in the context of the perspective of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, creating the conditions for an inclusive and sustainable development – the best way to prevent crises and conflicts in today’s world.

And Helen Clark, former Administrator of UNDP underscored the importance of “inclusive partnerships, and transparency and accountability in maximising the impact of development cooperation”.

This is, of course, easier said than done. To succeed, we must move away from a competition between agencies towards strategic “coopetition” where development actors both cooperate and compete, capitalising on partnerships to create maximum value for beneficiaries. The international development community should increasingly seek to give value and visibility to cooperative partnerships that leverage the individual and collective value created by the partners, and which drive sustainable impact on the ground.

Recent estimates indicate that it could cost as much as USD 4.5 trillion per year to meet the SDGs. SPC’s assessment is that, for the Pacific islands region alone, there is a funding gap of USD 55 million per year just to collect the data needed to report against the SDGs. Over the remaining 12 years of the 2030 Agenda, that is a colossal amount of money, which will require innovative partnerships where “private financing and private solutions complement and leverage public funds and official development assistance”.

If nowhere else, in the field of development financing it becomes painfully clear that no one individual, country or organisation can “go it alone” anymore. Partnerships are critical, as is the capacity to leverage public and private sector relationships. Behind lofty declarations, handshakes and photo opportunities, the question of funding brings us back to a pragmatic reality: without it, we are not going to achieve the ambitious targets and genuinely noble goals we have fixed for the planet and ourselves.

Sustainable financing for sustainable development can only come from strong partnerships, which leverage expertise and funding from various sources to drive integrated programmes of work targeted at clearly identified needs expressed by countries and clearly identified development outcomes. This is, in my view, what success would look like. It captures the essence of the partnerships we should strive for as we pursue the Global Goals, seek to “Save Our Oceans”, “Make Our Planet Great Again”, “Leave No-One Behind” and ultimately achieve the development aspirations of countries and their populations.


Cameron Diver (@Cameron_Diver) is Deputy Director-General at The Pacific Community (SPC), the principal scientific and technical organisation in the Pacific region, that has been supporting development since 1947. SPC are an international development organisation owned and governed by their 26 country and territory members.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of the International Development LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.