The Global Partnership – ready to broaden its mandate?

Updated for a global audience in February 2014 on Global Partnership/GPEDC blog site ; original published by CIPS on September 4, 2013.


John Sinclair, Distinguished Associate, North-South Institute, Canada.

Global Partnership – ready to Broaden Its Mandate?

Partnership, especially global, has to be a good thing. Many saw the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation as a last-minute compromise reached at the 2011 Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea, but the Global Partnership’s first High Level meeting in Mexico on April 15-16 is the opportunity to prove its mettle.

The question remaining is whether the Global Partnership can evolve into a leading element in the new global architecture on sustainable development or risks remaining just a slightly enlarged, post-Busan technical forum.

The Global Partnership was conceived as a bridge, political as well as technical, between North and South. However for it to function, Western donors must find common cause with new development actors from an invigorated South such as China, India and Brazil. They must also respect country leadership from increasingly diverse recipient-partners ranging from lower-middle-income Vietnam to highly vulnerable Haiti.

“A Global Partnership linked ministerially to the G20, but also well co-ordinated with the UN, could be a win-win solution for development effectiveness.”

While the Global Partnership continues to find its feet, North and South are moving ahead on the Post-2015 Agenda, the stage beyond the Millennium Development Goals. Building upon his High-Level Panel and extensive consultations, the United Nations’ Secretary-General has proposed to build a consensus around two main objectives: the global elimination of extreme poverty and a set of sustainable development goals linking economic growth, social justice and environmental protection. The UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is accelerating its work to frame these new goals later in 2014.

An enhanced Global Partnership could play a more engaged role in building that consensus. A modest first step is already happening. The Global Partnership is informally extending beyond monitoring post-Busan performance to a role in helping frame the Post-2015 Development Agenda. But its leadership is still wary, focusing for now on their first High-Level Meeting.

Today’s Global Partnership, with its tripartite ministerial leadership from the UK, Indonesia and Nigeria, works through a committee of 15 international ‘worthies’, selected, with what some might see as only partial legitimacy, to reflect views from different country groupings, international organisations, the private sector and civil society. It has a modest secretariat drawn from the United Nations Development Programme and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This is all far from optimal for a global leadership role. The Partnership risks being left as a weak voice which will defer on strategic issues to traditional global governance fora such as the OECD Development Assistance Committee and the somewhat tired Bretton Woods’ Committees.

Why not start, even if incrementally, to move towards a stronger role? To do this the Global Partnership needs a broader mandate. Busan already saw a shift in vocabulary from aid to development effectiveness. But development post-Busan must be understood more broadly to embrace trade and investment, intellectual property rights, climate change, global governance, etc. Encouragingly that broader agenda is already entering Post-2015 thinking.

In that same spirit the Global Partnership could be reformatted to include a broader–based, more representative ministerial-level body, perhaps as an enlarged steering committee on some sort of ‘constituency’ basis like the OWG. This enlarged Ministerial membership might be broadly aligned with that of the current low-key development working group of the G20. Conveniently, two of the Partnership’s Co-Chairs already sit as nations around the G20 table.

None of this will be easy. The exact mechanics will need to be worked out within the Partnership and with the G20. The latter has its own challenges of legitimacy and flawed inclusiveness. It needs to quickly add a so-called fragile state. Conveniently one is already on the Global Partnership steering committee.

Maybe more problematically, some influential NY voices within the G77 see Busan, thus the Global Partnership, as a ‘plot’ challenging the primacy of the UN. The G77 might prefer another body, the so-called High Level Political Forum, born at Rio+20 to work on the ‘how’ of Post-2015; however, it is also seen as stunted in terms of real power.

The occasion for a first step could be the High-Level Meeting. Could ministers, especially those from countries already within the G20, in Mexico reach beyond the Global Partnership’s Development Effectiveness mandate to encompass the related challenges of merging Post-2015 Millennium Development Goals and new Sustainable Development Goals?

Their formal agenda is important but somewhat technical, including post-Busan monitoring, future roles for the private sector, South-South co-operation, domestic resource mobilization and country-level implementation. This is not the stuff that usually grabs the attention of busy ministers. Moreover, there are more problematic issues that, although raised in Busan or the UN’s Open Working Group, may require a high-level political forum such as a G20 working group enriched with some Global Partnership ministers to build consensus or frame needed compromises.

To move forward global leaders, from South and North, need to agree that there is no one ‘right’ global forum for decision-making or dialogue. Many ideas have their roots in the UN system; others emerge in fora such as the G20 or the Bretton Woods Institutions. None of these fora should have an exclusive right to global power and leadership. Indeed, in our multi-polar world enhanced inclusivity is ever more the institutional challenge.

With this opportunity and also institutional ambiguity, maybe the Partnership even at this late hour might add an informal session in Mexico on its own mandate and future place in global governance? After all this will be first time the Global Partnership comes together as 100+ ministers at a meeting of old and new donors/partners and recipients. The session might be difficult, but still an invaluable exploration. Even to deal with its original Busan mandate, the Global Partnership needs greater legitimacy and empowerment. In a G20 context, North and South have learned to work as partners countering the global financial crisis. Extending that spirit to break the traditionalism within OECD and G77 circles might be a big boost towards the mindset needed for an effective Partnership.

An important caveat is that some low-income, still aid-dependent, developing countries find an enhanced Global Partnership role a worrying concept.  They fear it could distract traditional donors from maintaining the essential flow of conventional aid. Emerging Economies, the BRICS (that is, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), need to reassure them that this new broader development agenda will have space for both their own needs and those of the fragile states and LICs (Low Income Countries).

A Global Partnership linked ministerially to the G20 will be institutionally a bold step. But, especially if it is also well co-ordinated with the UN, it could be a win-win solution for development effectiveness. Its first challenge could be to assist with the trouble-shooting and consensus–building essential for a successful outcome on the Post-2015 Agenda and its new Sustainable Development Goals. Beyond that, an enhanced ministerial leadership of the Global Partnership building upon its development effectiveness focus, could play a key role in pushing the G20 itself, still overly focused on the global financial crisis, towards a broader geo-political agenda, including issues of equitable and inclusive global development. This would hopefully finally displace any lingering G8 dreams of continuing exclusivity in global leadership. Voices of moderation and partnership in North and South should welcome and support this transition.