approach’ to sustainable development emerged as an innovative
alternative to traditional bi-lateral and concession-style
development arrangements within the Earth Summit’s (Rio
de Janeiro, 1992) seminal guiding document Agenda 21. Cross-sector
partnerships inherently acknowledge that the combined strengths
and collective actions of partners have the potential to more
efficiently and effectively deliver results than parties working
independently. Moreover, development initiatives have often
fallen short, not due to a shortage in demand or the ability
to supply, but because of insular barriers such as inadequate
rule of law, faulty regulation and tax policies, technology
and end-user adaptability. In this respect, the broader inclusion
and ‘buy-in’ of multiple actors working in partnership
can help to constrain parochial interests that so often hold
back development projects.
Since 1992, there has been growing interest
in the gradually increasing number of cross-sector partnerships
have been slowly but expectantly undertaken as a practicable
approach to the elusive goal of sustainable development –
several companies, NGOs and governments have experimented
with partnerships and have had some real, albeit limited,
successes. Intergovernmental agencies (in fact most of the
agencies in the UN ‘family’) adopted and promoted
partnership activity and by so doing have provided much needed
leadership. But even the best initiatives have only had limited
impact and much good work has received little or no publicity.
Many see a serious gap between rhetoric and practice and it
was only comparatively recently that non-trivial numbers of
companies, industry sector associations and IGOs have undertaken
serious engagement in sustainable development partnerships
(e.g. Global Water Partnership, NEPAD, etc.). Moreover, training
and learning programmes have in the last two years begun to
identify and provide skills and competencies so badly needed
by partnership practitioners in all sectors.
Pressed to take a critical assessment
of progress since UNCED, the preparatory process for the World
Summit on Sustainable Development clearly recognised that
the partnership approach held untapped potential to contribute
to and accelerate development activity. UN leaders and many
governments successfully re-vitalised interest in partnerships,
such that by the close of WSSD partnerships emerged as the
prevailing way forward -- translating policy into action.
In this background, hundreds of partnership projects were
put together in preparation for and in the interim since the
Summit; and the approach appears to be poised to deliver.
However, if sustainable development objectives
and millennium development goals are to be achieved through
partnerships, hundreds of thousands of actors, taking part
on a voluntary, commercial or mandatory basis, will require
information and services specifically tailored to the distinctive
needs of partnerships.
To really impact sustainable development,
partnerships will need to:
- be more widely adopted and more rigorously
- become much more focussed, efficient
- learn from the mistakes of those that
have failed and from successes;
- be more ambitious in terms of reach,
scale and impact.
Partnerships Central was – effectively
– born in Johannesburg to provide a significant contribution
to addressing these challenges, by delivering the necessary
motivation, means and opportunity down to the local level.