By Rahul Daswani
The reason there are 9 “Major Groups” of stakeholders as part of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development is because these groups are the ones who are pushy and vocal.
Felix Dodds (Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum), shared his tips during a talk at the Harvard Kennedy School on November 10 2011: “By getting involved early, you can have a huge impact on influencing the policy agenda”.
Even when governments are not ready to engage and we want to keep up momentum, there are lots of ways conversations can be kept moving – from coffee chats in capital corridors to more formal discussion with officials on their priorities, constant engagement leads to a strong trust-based bond.
Naturally, the desire to get involved early must be complemented with enough substance in order to get the attention of international organizations. Some ways to do that include a) writing background papers – promoting ideas, workshops, information leading up to a major event b) providing policy recommendations for instance on how to reshape financial markets (indices, governance, incentives, state owned investment vehicles) c) building alliances with key players in industry, for instance on the issue of corporate accountability for sustainability.
While this makes sense as a broad strategy, an audience member raised a question that is likely to be an obstacle to actionable progress: How do we make sure governments collaborate, agree, and execute?
Dodds suggested that the main way had to be by instituting review mechanisms that reward delivery. “NGOs play a role in holding accountability: we have done that very badly over the years – one of the missing links is parliaments. Parliaments could be part of as an annual review mechanism. There is no reason why parliaments can’t hold the executive branch of the government accountable.”
Another useful question was understanding whether this process is replicable outside the sustainable development arena (e.g. health, human rights, etc). Dodds was unambiguous in his response – Yes. In the fields of HIV/Aids and human rights, NGOs had demonstrated that they could set the agenda.
One of the things that Dodds wants to see is more UN summits taking place away from New York. It would be particularly important to have the 2015 MDG Summit hosted by a developing country. “Once we have a pooled expertise, then we get to have a more coherent input to the process”. This winds back to his earlier point – the beginning is the most important bit – if you get things right in agenda setting, governments trust you since you’ve been working with them over a period of time, so they take your ideas.
In my own experience setting up the Office of Climate Change and Development for the Government of Papua New Guinea, I found a lot of these principles to be valid. We appreciated the expertise of NGOs understanding how to get things done on the ground, and by engaging them early, developed a comprehensive, prioritized set of stakeholder interactions in different formats for various provinces. Furthermore, the indigenous people we spoke to felt much more comfortable pursuing ambitious initiatives knowing that NGOs, international organizations and the government together agreed that it was the best course of action.
Rahul Daswani is a pursuing a Masters in Public Policy Degree at the Harvard Kennedy School.