Statement on behalf of GCAP at roundtable 6 of the MDGs Summit

Global Call to Action against Poverty - Statement by co-chair Sylvia Borren

High-level Plenary Meeting of the Sixty-fifth Session of the UN General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals: 22 September 2010

Roundtable 6: Widening and Strengthening Partnerships 

Chairperson, and respected Round Table participants from Governments and Civil Society: 

It is my privilege to speak here on behalf of the wide international network in more than 100 countries of the Global Call to Action against Poverty, and on behalf of the 173 million people (the great majority from the Global South), who joined Stand Up and Take Action against Poverty last October, and the millions who have Made Noise against Poverty in the run up to this General Assembly.

Yes – Civil Society is in general in favor of Widening and Strengthening Partnerships.

But for us the key question is: Partnerships with WHOM, to achieve WHAT?

Because we know, as you do too, that there are examples of advances towards achieving the millennium goals through partnerships between civil society, the corporate sector and local and national governments.

Good examples: 

- Partnerships between governments, the corporate sector and civil society to encourage prevention, testing and supplying of medicine for people with HIV-Aids.

 - The public-private partnerships providing vocational training for young women and men, thus increasing their opportunities on the labor market.

There are also examples of partnerships which have been dysfunctional or even violent, leaving the women and men living in poverty worse off than before.

Bad examples: 

- The partnership between Shell and the Nigerian government – leaving the extreme environmental degradation of the Delta region in Nigeria. 

- The many free-export zones around the world where mostly young women and migrants work very long hours, in abhorrent labor conditions. And where the multinationals do not have to pay taxes which governments can use for education and health services, and where the governments and corporate sector have struck the deal that workers do not have the right to organize and join Trade Unions. 

So back to my question: yes, great, widening and strengthening partnerships: But partnerships with WHOM, to achieve WHAT?

For GCAP the key answer to this question can be tested very easily in any public-private partnership in two essential ways:

1. Are the people concerned (youths, women and men living in poverty, indigenous peoples etc.) and the local community fully involved in giving consent and in the design, planning, implementation and monitoring of the partnership activities?

2. Are women active participants with voice and equal decision-making power at every level within every partner of the partnership group? 

If the answer to these two questions is a serious YES, then it is likely that the partnership is WITH the people,  and not ‘so called FOR the people’ but really advancing the vested (usually financial) interests of the more powerful partners, such as governments and the corporate sector.

This may sound very obvious – but in practice the word partnership, and processes of partnership are usually not unpacked in terms of a rigorous power analysis, with clarity about ‘what is in it for whom’.  Partnerships can be constructive, but they can also be highly exploitative. 

There are many good and also many bad examples in the area of micro-financing which many here in the room will know about. When done well, micro-financing can create local and cooperative productivity in agriculture, a much needed local pool of skilled workers (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics), small enterprise in the form of shops and services and local to national and international trade (such as BRAC in Bangladesh and their silk production and trade). In fact micro-finance can be the foundation of the much needed local green economies.

But micro-finance can also be done badly: both by some banks who are sometimes no better than local money-lenders making inordinate profits over the backs of people who have little choice. But also by some development agencies who sometimes set up micro-finance activities with the best of intentions but inadvertently encourage child labor, or create products without sufficient demand – leaving the people involved worse off than before their interventions.

Let us look at the wide partnerships needed to achieve the millennium goals: food, water, sanitation and electricity for all. Quality health services and education for all. 

Good partnerships see national governments setting quality standards, and together with banks and the corporate sector investing in local communities. Local governments with civil society and their communities as well as with the corporate sector can work together to find environmentally sustainable solutions for food production and water, sanitation and electricity needs, using local and indigenous knowledge in combination with modern technology. They can adapt to climate change.  Young people and women can be fully involved in the planning and implementing of these as well as their education and health services. If non-formal birth attendants, nurses and teachers are trained, then this is a temporary measure. These non-formal providers are subsequently further trained to become certified and paid as fully qualified nurses and teachers.   

Bad partnerships see national governments encouraging an increased privatization of public services. This leads to a lack of control over the quality of these services, but even worse it has been proven time and again that privatization means that food, water, sanitation, electricity, health and education are then affordable for middle classes – whilst those living in poverty cannot afford these basic human rights. Scarcity of food and services leads to unfair profits being made, to speculation and to social exclusion. Privatization of basic services leads to further feminization of poverty. Women and girls inevitably have to work harder to find water and to be able to cook. They suffer health problems if sanitation is not easily available. Lack of health and education leads to all the well known problems: women dying in child birth, domestic and communal violence, prostitution and trafficking and other forms of modern slavery. What choices do these women have?

Local and multinational business may flourish financially in the short term, when public services are privatized, and governments may be able to cut their government budgets (as they are unfortunately still being encouraged to do by old-time economists who still people the ministries of finance, developments banks and the IMF - in my experience the disastrous Washington Consensus is still being put into practice, although different language gets used). All this is executed over the backs of the socially excluded, particularly women. And it is such short term thinking. 

For longer term inclusive economic growth and for stable democracies it has long been proven that you need healthy and educated populations. It is the cry of the mothers and fathers as well as of the children and youth in every poor community I have every visited: why don’t you invest in us, it will be worth your (economic and democratic) while!!!

So why don’t we? 

The millennium goals can actually easily be achieved. But that is only possible if MDG 7 and MDG 8 are filled with serious commitments – from the developed world!! In this sense the  outcome document of this MDG summit is highly disappointing, and an example of BAD PARTNERSHIP.. If only a few percent of all the public money that was spent on saving the banks and the corporate sector last year would be freed up to solve the food crisis, to educate our children and to train skilled workers and nurses and teachers (all this in constructive partnership with local governments and communities, and with women at the table in decision-making mode): then local green economies based on local agriculture, production and trade can lead to economic growth as well as to the realization of basic human rights within stable local communities. 

 But this takes GOOD PARTNERSHIPS with local communities at the centre, and civil society, governments and the corporate sector all playing their roles in a process where the potential problems with inequitable power relationships are managed through a system of checks and balances – and by the women in full decision making role at every level of the partnership.

The many national coalitions of the Global Call to Action against Poverty are in for serious and constructive partnerships – but not for civil society ‘whitewashing’….