15 May 2019: The heads of the UN Regional Commissions supported “People-first” public-private partnerships (PPPs), during the Fourth UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) International PPP Forum. The Forum showcased people-first approaches to PPPs, including as a way to implement the SDGs.

The UNECE International PPP Centre of Excellence hosted the Forum in cooperation with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Over 300 participants from 80 countries and representatives from the UN system, the UN Regional Commissions and multilateral development banks attended the Forum, which took place from 7-9 May 2019, in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum focused on the theme, ‘The Last Mile: Promoting People-first PPPs for the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

The five UN Regional Commissions heads supported a people-first approach to PPPs, a broader concept of PPPs that goes beyond value for money, towards value for people. This approach focuses on five outcomes: increased access and equity; replicability; sustainability and resilience; economic effectiveness; and stakeholder engagement. In late 2018, UNECE launched a call for “people-first” PPPs following meetings of UNECE’s Working Party on PPPs.

UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova welcomed the joint initiative, saying the people-first PPP approach is critical to mobilizing the private sector in support of the SDGs. She said Europe can learn from the other regions and other PPP models emerging elsewhere. Algayerova also recognized the challenge of corruption in previous PPP models, noting that UNECE has prioritized addressing corruption through its ‘Standard on a Zero Tolerance Approach to Corruption in PPP Procurement.’

UNECA Executive Secretary Vera Songwe said the private sector can play a significant role in driving growth and reducing poverty in Africa, given the challenges faced by African governments in financing the SDGs. Songwe also called for caution, noting that the landscape of PPPs “is not well defined” and recommended defining PPPs, building government capacity to establish PPP projects, and exerting caution with respect to grants and fiscal suitability. She welcomed the opportunity to promote the PPP model with other Regional Commissions to make it “fit for purpose for the 2030 Agenda.”

UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Executive Secretary Rola Dashti highlighted the importance of stakeholder inclusion in PPPs. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) representative, speaking from Santiago, Chile, expressed ECLAC’s full support to people-first outcomes, highlighting the ways in which PPPs can promote women’s empowerment. The representative supported ensuring a greater role for women in decision-making on PPP projects, a stronger role for women in project design, and inclusion of women-led companies in supply chains.

Also during the Forum, UNECE shared its Standards on PPPs in railways, roads and renewable energy, which aim to serve as guidelines for governments to design and implement PPPs in these three sectors, and to ensure that these PPPs contribute to achieving the SDGs and are people-first.

The Regional Commissions have also developed an Impact Assessment Tool to score projects against the SDGs and people-first outcomes. The tool aims to help assess pipelines of projects according to whether they: increase access and equity to essential services adapted to people’s needs during the lifecycle, especially the needs of vulnerable groups; have strong economic effectiveness, transformational impact and contribute to fiscal sustainability; are replicable; reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, making infrastructure more resilient; and effectively engage with all stakeholders.

The Forum also discussed, inter alia: Guiding Principles for People-first PPPs; and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), including BRI projects within the UNECE region.

The next Forum will convene at UNECA headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, following a preparatory event in Kampala, Uganda. [UNECE Press Release] [UNECA Press Release] [Forum Webpage] [UNECE Standard on a Zero Tolerance Approach to Corruption in PPP Procurement]