As highlighted at this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos under the central theme of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World,” the global community is facing a “poly-crisis” with challenges such as COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, climate change, and global inflation. As we face the vast challenge of simultaneously tackling these critical global issues, we need strong, inclusive, and integrated partnerships at all levels. More so, existing global cooperation structures are often insufficiently inclusive to deal with the complex web of interlocking global risks.
To better understand how organizations are facilitating inclusive multistakeholder partnerships, Gabriel Barrientos—associate director at APCO Worldwide and member of the strategic partnerships and global engagement team—conversed with Zahid Torres-Rahman, Co-Founder and CEO, of Business Fights Poverty, Inés Yábar, Next Generation Fellows Lead, UN Foundation and Ella Robertson McKay, Managing Director, One Young World to collect their insights.
This year is the midpoint of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and with a “poly-crisis” of global issues, it is increasingly important to re-think how multistakeholder partnerships are developed and executed. For example, when addressing climate change, investments in renewable energy or research and development will likely come from the private sector, hence the need for businesses to be part of the solution. Simultaneously, youth activists are increasingly on the frontlines when it comes to addressing climate concerns—as can be seen with the prominent public perceptions of individuals like Greta Thunberg or Vanessa Nakate. The global community is taking notice of the growing need to include youth voices in the decision-making process, and one example of this was the recent appointment of H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, the first-ever Youth Climate Champion for the COP28 process.
Organizations like Business Fights Poverty, the UN Foundation, and One Young World will continue to work toward meaningful action in the year ahead (at critical global moments such as the One Young World Global Summit, the SDG Summit at UNGA2023, and COP28). They invite others to partner with them to develop research insights, toolkits, reports, and partnerships.
Business at the Forefront of Partnerships
The role of the private sector in achieving the SDGs and in sustainable development generally is defined by the ability of businesses to be drivers of change. In other words, if multistakeholder partnerships are truly intended to be inclusive and are key to achieving the SDGs, then the private sector needs to be more than simply “check writers.” It is now common practice to highlight how businesses are moving toward generating more positive social impact—such as integrating sustainability into business practices, committing to actions that make a difference or designing their products or services in a different way.
Business Fights Poverty is an award-winning business-led collaboration network focused on creating social impact. For more than 15 years, they have brought together people from the private sector with those in the public sector, academia, and civil society to address the most pressing global issues. According to Torres-Rahman, in the last year alone Business Fights Poverty has seen businesses supporting workers experiencing gender-based violence in their supply chains; empowering women farmers in their supply chains to grow their businesses and adapt to climate change; supporting young social entrepreneurs with finance and mentoring; and sharing experience across sectors on how to implement living wages. More and more, they see companies asking how they can play a role as part of ecosystems for transformational impact, taking a more integrated approach to tackling root causes and creating systemic change.
The Growing Voice of Youth
Although there is no universally agreed upon definition of youth, the UN Secretariat for statistical purposes defines ‘youth’ as people between the ages of 15 and 24 years—and this demographic is another critical stakeholder in ensuring that inclusive partnerships are addressing the challenges we face in the years ahead. By 2030—the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda—the number of youths is projected to grow by seven percent to nearly 1.3 billion. The youth— perhaps more than any other stakeholder—are increasingly demanding more just, equitable, and progressive opportunities and solutions in their societies.
The UN Foundation, an independent charitable organization created to work closely with the United Nations to drive global progress and tackle urgent problems, believes that young people should be designers of their own future. In 2022, it launched the pilot Next Generation Fellows program, bringing together eight young leaders to support the UN Secretary-General’s work to reimagine the future of global cooperation. From the very beginning, they have manifested the importance of ensuring that youth have a voice in the decision-making process: the first cohort of Next Generation Fellows led a process interviewing over 600 young people and key stakeholders on what priorities the UN Secretary-General, the UN and the private sector should be focusing on. Over the course of this analysis, they identified a series of critical themes that led to the Our Future Agenda report.
One Young World similarly views the importance of ensuring that youth is that the forefront of addressing global issues through partnerships. One Young World is a UK-based charity that gathers the brightest young leaders from around the world and empowers them to make lasting connections to create positive change. Through the work that they lead, they have noted that companies are increasingly more inclined to view the importance of investing in young talent than in years past. With the unclear economic outlooks for the year ahead combined with the great resignation, labor trends are bound to adjust in a way that typically would put younger generations at a disproportionate disadvantage. However, according to McKay, One Young World is seeing that regardless of the economic outlook for the year, employers are continuing to compete for young talent.