UN Leaders Identify Gaps and Best Practices for Cross-sector Partnerships
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A report by UN Global Compact and Accenture Strategy examines trends and the potential for cross-sector partnerships to achieve the SDGs.

The study identifies capability gaps, resource constraints and low risk appetite as barriers to partnership.

Five case studies offer guidance on strategic collaboration, challenges faced, lessons learned and the partnerships’ value add.

March 2018: The UN Global Compact and Accenture Strategy released the second edition of their ‘CEO Study,’ which examines businesses’ opportunities to engage with the SDGs, in particular the role of cross-sector partnerships. The report builds on the initial study of business executives, with interviews of leaders from 35 entities across the UN system.

Only 28% of UN respondents believe their organization or agency is doing enough to engage the private sector.

The report titled, ‘Special Edition: Transforming Partnerships for the SDGs,’ follows the findings of the 2016 CEO Study, in which 85% of the over 1,000 CEOs surveyed saw cross-sector partnerships as being critical to realizing the Goals. This second round of research confirms the sentiment within the UN, with 100% of leaders surveyed stating that greater collaboration across sectors is critical to SDG attainment, and 91% reporting growing interest from the private sector. However, the report also reveals a gap, as only 28% of respondents believe their respective organization or agency is doing enough to engage the private sector.

The gap stems from three main causes identified by the UN respondents: capability gaps, resource constraints and low risk appetite by the organization’s governing bodies. The report notes that these gaps, combined with low levels of trust and a perceived lack of partnership-building skills, leads to short-term, one-off engagements, primarily on pilot projects that are not taken to scale. UN leaders lament that resource constraints often necessitate a focus on securing philanthropic or in-kind donations rather than on substantive value proposition for the company involved.

According to the report, 97% of the surveyed participants felt that better engagement depends on better measurement and tracking of impacts. However, the authors note, only 10% of UN entities always define formal key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress and impacts.

Five case studies of partnerships illuminate best practices. The case studies outline the reasons for partnership and how the collaborations first began, what each partner saw in the other, the cross-sector challenges faced while maintaining the partnership, and the overall value added. On the UN side, partners include the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Lessons from the case studies include the value of acknowledging trade-offs, and understanding how to navigate this in a strategic way to ensure that both partners benefit, by adding value that is greater than the sum of their parts. Aligning incentives is key to success, as common goals such as reducing child labor and increasing workplace safety (SDG targets 8.7 and 8.8, respectively) can help identify opportunities to collaborate. For example, the ILO’s partnership with Naledi3d, a virtual reality (VR) innovator, is reducing injuries in the forestry sector through the use of VR chainsaw training.

To scale up successes, the report provides an “IDEAS Roadmap” of actions for both business leaders and partnership practitioners. Five steps—identify, develop, engage, act and succeed—offer guidance on how transformative cross-sector partnerships can be fostered by individuals in both the business world and UN system.

The report also highlights the UN Global Compact’s UN-Business Action Hub, an online platform that allows users to browse cross-sector projects and seek new partners to scale up collaborations. [Publication: Special Edition: Transforming Partnerships for the SDGs] [CEO Study Landing Page] [UN-Business Action Hub]

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