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Is the private sector the “preferred partner” of the UN over civil society?

12. März 2018 - 13:15

“Civil society organizations are natural allies of the United Nations, but the partnership modality is not the primary way for civil society to engage with the UN” argued Barbara Adams at a panel discussion on “Strengthening partnerships and stakeholder engagement” that took place in the framework of the ECOSOC Operational Activities for Development on 27 February 2018. From a CSO perspective, she added, the primary way of leveraging resources for the Sustainable Development Goals is fair and progressive taxation.

See the video here.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Invitation side-event CSW: Strategies for Empowering Rural Women

12. März 2018 - 13:06

This public panel will discuss the multiple roles of rural women and girls for enhancing food sovereignty, preserving biodiversity, reducing inequalities, and combating climate change. The presentations will affirm the importance of engaging women in policy-making around more equitable and sustainable production and consumption.

Panelists will offer perspectives from the local level, addressing challenges such as intellectual property rights and land ownership for small-scale women farmers. We will also discuss the opportunities and shortcomings of a human rights approach and global advocacy efforts to increasing women’s participation in decision-making to tackle poverty, malnutrition, and environmental degradation.

Additionally, the panel will discuss approaches to advancing gender equality for rural women by analyzing the challenges small-scale women farmers face due to economic stressors such as food insecurity, hunger, and poverty. Taking into account women’s organizing movements in rural communities, it will highlight women’s contributions to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including in them informal sector of farm workers. The conversation will enhance policy debates focused on increasing rural women’s access to and control over resources at the global level and in local communities.

Monday 12 March 2018, 2:30 p.m.
10th Floor, Church Center for the United Nations, 777 United Nations Plaza

Speakers include: Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum; María Graciela Cuervo, DAWN; Vidhya Das, Agragamee Agnes Kirabo, Food Rights Alliance; Carolyn Sachs, Penn State University; and moderated by Stefanie Ehmsen, RLS–NYC.

Organized by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office (RLS-NYC), Co-sponsored by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), and Social Watch.

More information can be found here, including instructions on how to RSVP for the side-event.

For more information on CSW please visit the CSW website here.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

UN Secretary-General’s remarks today – Too many left behind in the rust belts of the world

28. Februar 2018 - 18:42


Secretary-General of the United Nations

Remarks to Economic and Social Council Operational Activities for Development Segment Tuesday, 27 February 2018

I have addressed the ECOSOC three times on the substance of the reform we are proposing for the UN development system. I thought that in the opening of this Operational Segment, it would probably make more sense to talk about the huge challenges in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and to our central objective in sustainable and inclusive development because it is that set of challenges we are facing that fully justifies the need to be bold in the reforms we are presenting.  And let’s be clear, the situation is not a situation in which we can take for granted that Agenda 2030 will be fully implemented; there are a number of serious threats in the way global development is taking place, in the way the global economy is evolving, in the way technology is evolving. There are serious threats to Agenda 2030 and we need to be effectively reformed in order to be able to limit the impact of those threats and use, as much as possible, our potential of our capacities in support to Member States.

So, since ECOSOC is taking up the issue of Operational Activities for Development, allow me to step back to offer some perspectives on the economic and social picture we are operating under today.  

Our world is facing a crisis of legitimacy, of confidence, of trust.

This crisis is not abstract – it is rooted in the legitimate fears, anxieties and even anger of people.  

No one can doubt the many benefits of globalization – the integration of the world’s economies, the expansion of trade, the stunning advances in technology.

More people have risen out of extreme poverty than ever before.  

The global middle class is bigger than ever.  

More people are living longer and healthier lives.

But too many are being left behind in the different Rust Belts of our world.  

Women are still far less likely to participate in the labour market – and gender pay gaps remain a global concern.  

Youth unemployment is at alarming levels. A big concern in relation to the welfare of young people, in relation to development, but also in relation to global security.

And inequalities are rampant – stretching the fabric of societies to the breaking point and undermining the social compact.

People are rightly questioning a world where a handful of men hold the same wealth as half of humanity (and they are men by the way, not a single woman).

Whole regions, countries and communities can find themselves marooned from waves of progress and left behind by growth.

Exclusion has a price: frustration, alienation, instability.

Life chances and contributions become severely limited.  Vulnerability to economic and climate-related shocks grows.  So, too, does the danger of forced migration and the temptation to fall prey to the siren songs of extremist ideologies.  

At the same time, technology is transforming how we live and work – from bio- engineering to synthetic biology to artificial intelligence to data analytics and to many other aspects.

Yet, as much as technology is a vector of hope, it is also a source of fear.

The world is only beginning to address the dark side of innovation, from cybersecurity threats to the natural impacts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on our societies and labour markets.

We already see the crippling impact of cyber-attacks on public infrastructure, and on electoral processes.

The risks of cyberwarfare between nations are increasing.

Artificial intelligence is changing the game and can boost development and transform lives in spectacular fashion.  

But it may also have a dramatic impact on labour markets and, indeed, on global security and societies as a whole.

We also see how the web, in addition to being an incredible platform for free speech, is magnifying hate speech.

Innovation is far outstripping our ability to comprehend these implications and their unintended consequences.  

We need to seize the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution while safeguarding against its dangers.

All of this compels us to do all we can to achieve inclusive and sustainable development — a goal in its own right, but also our best form of prevention against all kind of risks.

After all, as long as we cling to an economic and social model that drives exclusion and environmental destruction, people die, opportunities are missed, the seeds of division and future conflicts are sown and the full force of climate change becomes ever more likely.

We need a global economy that works for all and creates opportunities for all.  

To rebuild trust, we need to build a fair globalization.

The 2030 Agenda is our crucial contribution.  

Poverty eradication is and remains our top priority. The 2030 Agenda is our roadmap and its goals and targets are tools to get there.

The Sustainable Development Goals make clear our ambition and our commitment.  

To empower women.  To include young people in meaningful ways.  To reduce climate risk.  To create decent jobs and mobilize clean investments for inclusive growth.  To expand dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.

Finance is pivotal.  The Addis Ababa Action Agenda stresses the importance of upholding commitments to Official Development Assistance.  

We will need it and much more.  And so the Addis Agenda also calls for scaling up efforts and innovation in leveraging resources and financing for development.  

We must also support countries in their efforts to mobilize domestic resources.  But that must be accompanied by a stronger commitment by the international community to fight tax evasion, money laundering and illicit financial flows that are today a severe threat to many development countries aiming at reforms that are necessary to put them in sustainable growth.  

The ambitious 2030 Agenda requires ambitious change in the way we operate.

That is why our proposals to reposition the UN development system are founded on creating a new generation of country teams to support countries, to reinforce national leadership and advance national ownership for sustainable development.

We are focused on building a system that is demand-driven, oriented around achieving results at scale, and accountable in providing support to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

With results for the people we serve as our ultimate measure, we are working to make our support to regional integration and to addressing trandsboundary opportunities and challenges more in tune with today’s reality and country needs.  

We have proposed a set of adjustments at the global level to make our operations on the ground more cohesive, effective and efficient.

I have also launched a series of work streams to strengthen the capacity of the Organization to harness the power of partnership.

We seek to bolster accountability of the UN development system both at the country level, and at the global level, through ECOSOC, empowered to hold us accountable and challenge us to do more, together.  

And we propose a Funding Compact, to give the system the resources and the flexibility that it needs to deliver, in exchange for more transparency and accountability for results.

Over the next three days, as you consider these proposals, I encourage you to take inspiration from the ambition of the 2030 Agenda to help forge the future we want.

We have come a long way, together, since the far-reaching vision and guidance provided through the December 2016 resolution on the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review.

We are now closer than ever to repositioning sustainable development at the heart of the organization and to having a development system that is an even stronger partner as we seek to deliver for people.

Together, let us make good on our shared promise to humanity – a future of prosperity, peace and dignity for all.  

Thank you.

Bookmark the Spokesperson’s website:

Kategorien: english, Ticker

The 2030 Agenda, donor priorities and UN mandates

15. Januar 2018 - 18:46
Lessons from the WHO experience

By Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

Download this briefing (pdf version).

As he concluded the first year of his term, the UN Secretary-General reiterated his call for a new Funding Compact, an agreement by Member States and the United Nations development system. In his 20 Decemberadvance report on Repositioning the UN Development System, he stated: “Ultimately, the Funding Compact is about increasing the likelihood of universal achievement of the SDGs and eradicating poverty from the face of the earth. In other words, it is about determining whether we can deliver on our ambition to make the world a more prosperous, peaceful and sustainable place by 2030.”

The report did not mince words on the strategic importance of the Compact to uphold the UN’s neutrality and multilateral nature.

“Providing the system with more predictable and flexible resources is not only about reaffirming trust in the United Nations. It is about investing in results for the people we serve. It would strengthen the system’s ability to address critical global challenges like climate change, human trafficking and displacement and extreme weather shocks, while ensuring greater impact on issues that matter to citizens such as better health systems, better jobs for young people, eradicating poverty and sustainably managing urban areas. It would enable critical, underfunded functions of the system, including policy advice and support to financing for development. Ultimately, the Funding Compact is about increasing the likelihood of universal achievement of the SDGs and eradicating poverty from the face of the earth. In other words, it is about determining whether we can deliver on our ambition to make the world a more prosperous, peaceful and sustainable place by 2030.”

The inadequacy of the quantity and quality of funding for the UN has featured centrally in the Secretary-General’s commitments to reposition the UN development system. Speaking to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC )in July 2017 he made it clear that such a Compact is central to any reform package, promising that the UN system would commit to “greater efficiency, value-for-money and reporting on results against the prospect of more robust core funding support for individual agencies and improved joint funding practices”.

In November, speaking again to Member States, he reiterated the need for such a Compact. Saying that “Fragmented funding can only deliver fragmented results,” he added: “We want to provide you with sufficient accountability, transparency and value for money to build a strong case for more flexible funding.”

Responses to the proposed Funding Compact from traditional donors have indicated much interest. Switzerland and Norway welcomed such a Funding Compact and recognize that current funding practices, particularly with regard to earmarking, have contributed to fragmentation and working in silos. Norway added that the “rationale for such a compact should be to overcome the present mismatch between what Member States expect from the system and the way we fund it.” In addition to ensuring “enhanced flexible and predictable financial resources” the task of such a compact “should be to strengthen the multilateral character of the UNDS and the burden sharing among Member States … not merely traditional donors”. Ecuador, on behalf of the G77 and China, stated that “Pooled funding, innovative financing mechanisms and partnerships must complement not substitute for core sources”, while Ireland reiterated  that “core funding is the bedrock for the UN Development System”.

Flexible funding enables the UN development system to carry out its mandates, respond to unexpected challenges, ensure its value-based commitments and extend its normative responsibilities. Earmarked funding, has increased steadily over the last two decades, reaching the point that, as the Secretary-General spelled out in his first report on repositioning the UN system, released in June 2017, “only about 15% of the system is core-funded” while “at the same time, more than 90% of all non-core flows are being directed to single donor-single entity projects.” The December report reiterates this harmful trend: “fragmentation is such that 91 per cent of all non-core flows allocated to single entity projects and only 6 per cent channelled through interagency pooled funds.”

The growth in non-core and earmarked funding has also been examined by the donors. A 2014 OECD report explained the ways in which earmarking suited donor interests:

“[S]ome individual bilateral donors have gained more influence to shape the priorities and sizes of multilateral organizations’ budgets, bypassing “purely multilateral” governance whereby decisions are made by all members according to collectively endorsed rules. For example, in the case of the UN, the current financing system whereby earmarked contributions are a substantial part of all funding radically departs from the system originally envisaged in the UN Charter, according to which decision making by the General Assembly set the priorities and size of the budget to be financed through mandatory assessed contributions by member states.”

The OECD report added that a similar phenomenon could be seen at the World Bank and regional development banks, where “the substantial weight of earmarked funding in the form of trust funds, have brought about a “bilateralisation” of these institutions, extending their activities beyond the amounts mobilised through replenishments and increasing the influence of groups of donors on specific priorities”.

WHO – funding crisis vs global health crisis

The World Health Organization is a stark example of change in funding practices and strategies and the consequences. Set up in 1948 with a mandate to “direct and coordinate” international health and establish the necessary norms and standards for countries worldwide, for at least the last three decades it has been burdened with a chronic funding crisis that has jeopardized its mandate and ability to carry out all of its responsibilities with regard to global public health.

WHO’s budget is financed through a mix of assessed and voluntary contributions. As with other UN specialized agencies, assessed contributions are required “membership” contributions from Member States, based on the size of their economies and populations, while voluntary contributions can come from public and private sources, or a blend thereof. Unlike assessed contributions, voluntary contributions can vary substantially from year to year and lack the predictability needed for early warning disease preparedness and response, on-going standard-setting, or capacity building support.

The assessed contributions, which were originally required to be 51 percent of the WHO budget, including all programmes related to its normative work, have steadily declined, both in absolute and relative terms. In 1985 Member States decided to freeze assessed contributions, and the financing situation deteriorated further when some Member States failed to pay even their frozen levels of contributions, in some cases for political reasons: “The USA in particular withheld funds, a move largely interpreted as expressing dissatisfaction with WHO’s list of essential medicines, in line with public opposition from US pharmaceutical companies.”1

In response to funding shortfalls, Member States in 1998 lifted the requirement that 51 percent of the budget be financed through assessed contributions. While this increased overall revenue, it also increased the importance of voluntary contributions, which now make up about 80 percent of the total. While voluntary contributions can be fully flexible, for 2014-15 only 7 percent of voluntary contributions were made to core, reducing the ability of the organization to response to unexpected challenges and maintain its normative responsibilities.

Targeted donor influence not only reduces flexibility but also weakens support to leadership driven by independent health considerations and has served to undermine the WHO’s ability to maintain adequate expertise and staff capacity. This was well documented in response to the Ebola crisis and prompted some moderate attempts to learn lessons from this catastrophe. However, in September 2016, the WHO warned that due to inadequate finances, it is likely to lose expertise and to struggle in providing countries the necessary technical guidance on a number of health issues, such as anti-microbial resistance and HIV/AIDS.

Further, it is likely to be more responsive to national and specific pressures including from powerful corporations within the health business, especially pharmaceutical companies. Former WHO Director- General Dr. Margaret Chan spelled out these pressures in an address to health professionals in June 2013, citing research documenting the use of “front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research that confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.”

Few governments are immune to such pressure. As Dr. Chan added: “Market power readily translates into political power. Few governments prioritize health over big business. … This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business.”

The partnership model

Inadequate financing of the UN and its mandates has also prompted the UN and its Member States to embrace a range of different private sector partnerships and finance patterns, including through philanthropies and big business.  While at the global level these have taken the form of multi-donor or multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve specific goals, at a national level, they are characterized by public private partnerships (PPPs) designed to attract private investment as a way to increase economic growth.

This promotion of the partnership approach has been accelerated since 2015, as the action plans of each of the “big three” landmark agreements -the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change- and international development banks have stressed the need to move “from billions to trillions” in order to achieve the SDGs.

However, while the participation of the private sector can add much to the ability to finance some of  the ambitious goals of the agreements, the partnership approach itself carries a number of risks and side-effects that require greater scrutiny regarding donor priorities and compatibility with UN mandates.  The WHO, encouraged by Member States, has embraced multi-donor partnerships as a way to increase financial support and provide needed expertise. However, money brings influence, as philanthropic health researchers Chelsea Clinton (who now heads the Clinton Foundation) and Devi Sridhar point out in a 2017 article in The Lancet that examined the influence of the major donors,  notably the USA, the UK and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation​, on global health (see box)​:

Impact of major donors on WHO mandate

Clinton and Sridhar address the impact of moving to a partnership model, stating:

“The move towards the partnership model in global health and voluntary contributions…allows donors to finance and deliver assistance in ways that they can more closely control and monitor at every stage.” This shift illustrates a trend in global health governance “away from traditional government-centred representation and decision-making; and towards narrower mandates or problem-focused vertical initiatives and away from broader systemic goals sought through multilateral cooperation.”

Clinton and Sridhar also make clear that the impact of the new partnership model works in tandem with but goes beyond earmarking:

“By using financing and governance mechanisms within the old institutions, as well as by creating new agencies, donors can more likely achieve their goals for a few reasons. First, they have structurally aligned the objectives of global agencies with their own objectives. Individual governments (or small groups of governments and like-minded others) can use the new funding mechanisms, agencies, or initiatives as a way to define and pursue a separate mandate, for example with HIV/AIDS.”

​“Over time, the rearrangement of WHO’s priorities to align with funds was inevitable, with donors earmarking 93% of voluntary funds in the 2014-15 budget. Influence is heavily concentrated among the top donors. Undeniably then, a direct link exists between financial contributions and WHO focus.”

One of the clearest illustrations of this influence concerns the WHO polio programme.  According to the WHO, the Gates Foundation  has been contributing between US$250 million and US$300 million a year to the WHO for over a decade. In one year – 2013 – it was the single largest donor, overtaking total contributions from the governments of both the US and the UK. In 2015 it was the organization’s third largest voluntary contributor, after the governments of the USA and UK.

One of the Gates Foundation’s priorities is the eradication of polio, which can be prevented with comprehensive vaccination campaigns; it is perhaps not surprising that in 2016 WHO’s polio programme is by far the best-resourced, accounting for 23.5 percent of the programme budget.

The Secretary-General, while affirming the vital importance of partnerships to achieving the 2030 Agenda, has acknowledged the need to revisit them. His 30 June 2017 report has put in motion the mandate from Member States in 2016 (A/RES/71/243) to “recalibrate and enhance other critical United Nations skill sets to match the needs of the 2030 Agenda”, and seeks “revamped capacities in partnerships and financing”.

Beyond global public health: policy coherence and governance structure

The WHO was set up as a global authority, so nations would “compromise their short-term differences in order to attain the long-run advantages of regularized collaboration on health matters” as Clinton and Sridhar relate. However, this approach is frequently challenged as Member States have disagreed about the primary work of the organization. While some Member States prioritized the need for strong public health institutions and broad health coverage, others argued for a more ‘selective’ approach, concentrating attention on eradicating specific diseases, through coordinated intervention by a number of sources, public and private.

The shift in funding strategy led by the major donors – from assessed to voluntary to specified or earmarked – has been instrumental in redirecting the work of the WHO and has jeopardized its role as premier global health authority. It also raises some important issues beyond public health – first and foremost those of policy coherence and democratic governance.

As Margaret Chan has queried: “If multisectoral collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagement are the reality for sustainable development in the post–2015 era, we need to debate what type of mechanisms are required to allow all stakeholders to make contributions and to protect against the influence of vested interest. We also need to consider the UN’s role as an honest broker that promotes fair play.”2

Funding feedback loop

The vicious circle evident in the WHO and its negative feedback loop is also at play in many parts of the UN system. When unable to ignore the enormous gap between the demands placed on the UN system and the resources contributed to respond, most governments have responded with earmarked funds or with partnership arrangements, sometimes including non-state actors, and diluting or ignoring the norms and standards that are the hallmark of the UN.

Some governments have tried to maintain a reasonable balance between assessed and voluntary contributions to WHO. However, all donors increasingly favour the partnership approach and resource non-UN entities in areas that should be UN-led. This is most evident recently in the case of big data partnerships—where UN entities now farm out data collection to private sector actors such as Gallup.

Perhaps driven initially by a desire for results, this financing strategy further fragments programme design and delivery, undermines the normative authority of the UN, and not only encourages competition among UN entities, but is setting up and nourishing programmes parallel to and competitive with the UN.

WHO, like other UN entities, has been a victim of the shift in funding patterns by Member States.  An organization struggling for finance is more likely to accept or co-operate with a variety of approaches that bring or promise resources. This further fragments its programming, decision-making and capacity. Piecemeal responses run counter to the calls in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an agenda authorized by the Member States themselves.

Donor interests, public interest and global responsibilities

The Swiss-based Center for Comparative and International Studies has conducted an analysis based on a review of over 100,000 earmarked projects by 23 OECD donors from 1990 to 2012.  Observations include that: “Earmarking allows donor countries to delegate responsibility and to pool risks with other donors while simultaneously being able to target resources according to their priorities, demand tailored reporting, and reap the benefits of increased visibility relative to (un-earmarked) multilateral aid”. Despite calls to bridge the enormous financing gap to achieve the SDGs, the authors conclude that mobilizing additional donor resources will depend on the ability of both public and private donors “to target their resources according to their preferences”.3

The CIS analysis found a major correlation between a government donor preference for earmarked funding and a belief that the private sector is more efficient than the public – not only in developing countries but also at home. “Specifically the market orientation of donors’ economies, such as their stance on outsourcing public service delivery domestically, positively correlates with the degree of ‘bypassing’ recipient governments in weakly-governed countries.”

A similar reluctance to invest in public institutions was evident also in case of the WHO. As Clinton and Sridhar observe:

“Donors have been reticent to invest significantly in what is broadly known as health systems strengthening, either through traditional multilaterals, vertical funds, or their own bilateral mechanism, despite the broad-based recognition that health systems are vital to achieving durable progress in vertical and horizontal prerogatives alike. This reticence is also there for the monies needed to invest in building core capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to new infectious disease outbreaks.”

This orientation and practice are not limited to health, but can occur throughout Member State decision-making on tackling global problems and will be at play in the strategies of UN institutions set up to tackle global problems—and critical goals within the 2030 Agenda, such as climate change, food and nutrition, agricultural sustainability and access to water and renewable energy.

The analysis of Clinton and Sridhar with regard to the WHO spells out the ambivalence and often contradictions of Member States in reconciling the need for multilateralism with the reality of their pursuit of their own priorities:

“The irony…is that states form, and join global institutions such as WHO recognizing the need for collective action that does not always mesh with their own individual national interests. Yet, as the shifts in global governance over the past two decades show, they largely resist providing the adequate support and investment necessary for the institutions to succeed on delivering against collectively determined priorities.”

The Secretary-General, confronted with this irony has focused clearly on the need for a new Funding Compact, one which shifts the balance from non-core to core funding, from specific to flexible, in order to improve system-wide coordination and accountability.

While some Member States have been supportive, it remains unclear how or if their funding patterns will change.  Perhaps the first test of their response will be at the 2018 ECOSOC Operational Activities for Development segment, itself the subject of revitalization recommendations.

Accompanying the challenge to Member States is the equally vital response from the institutions and programmes that carry the UN banner to shift from institutional self-interest to UN relevance and service.

The major challenge facing the UN development system is how to spark and sustain the political leadership needed to break the vicious circle whereby responses to the chronic financing situation are actually exacerbating it.

In calling for a new Funding Compact, the Secretary-General placed it as central to the reform of the UN Development System: “The Funding Compact is critical to the success of all the proposals. Fragmented funding can only deliver fragmented results.”

He challenged Member States to join this compact: to “ensure[ing] a new spirit of cooperation to maximize your investments in the UN and in people.”


  1. Chelsea Clinton and Devi Sridhar, “Who pays for cooperation in global health? A comparative analysis of WHO, the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance,” Health Policy, Published Online January 27, 2017
  2. Dr. Margaret Chan, Keynote address to the UN Economic and Social Council, 25 February 2014.
  3. Vera Z. Eichenauer & Bernhard Reinsberg. Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS). Working Paper No. 88,” April 2016; ;
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Kategorien: english, Ticker

“Market discourse has captured the development agenda to a point that may be incompatible with UN mandates”

14. Januar 2018 - 22:23


CIVICUS speaks with Barbara Adams, senior policy analyst at the Global Policy Forum (GPF), an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinises global policy-making. Founded in 1993 by a group of progressive scholars and activists, GPF promotes accountability and citizen participation in decisions on peace and security, social justice and international law. It does so by gathering information and circulating it through a comprehensive website, playing an active role in civil society networks and other advocacy arenas, organising meetings and conferences and publishing original research and policy papers.


  1. What is driving the turn towards the private corporate sector for development funding?

To implement the 2030 Agenda, many in the international community have addressed the financing gap, proclaiming the need to go from “billions to trillions” of dollars. This has propelled a turn to the private sector, and not just the private sector – given the trillions needed – but more so the corporate sector.

According to this popular view and the analysis of multilateral development banks, as reflected in a 2015 report by the World Bank, the global community needs to move the discussion from billions in official development assistance to trillions in investments of all kinds, to meet the investment needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While admitting that the majority of development spending happens at the national level in the form of public resources, advocates stress that the largest potential for additional funds is from private sector business, finance and investment – working in partnership with governments. This has been the conclusion recently reached by the Reflection Group on the 2030 Agenda.

A related trend is the emphasis put on multi-stakeholder partnerships by some governments and United Nations (UN) agencies and the former UN Secretary-General. This has been reinforced by the 2030 Agenda, and the push for its implementation and achievement of the SDGs.

For instance, a report released in 2015 by the UN Environment Programme emphasised the need to “access private capital at scale, with banking alone managing financial assets of almost US$140 trillion and institutional investors, notably pension funds, managing over US$100 trillion, and capital markets, including bond and equities, exceeding US$100 trillion and US$73 trillion respectively.”

  1. To what extent has market discourse captured the development agenda, and why has this happened?

The fact that the action phase of the ‘big three’ landmark agreements – the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and the Paris Agreement – is dominated by attracting private financing demonstrates the extent to which market discourse has captured the agenda. On a planetary scale this discourse or narrative capture continues patterns well underway at national and global levels.

Inadequate quantity and quality financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states has prompted different patterns of finance, including through philanthropists and big business. Core or un-earmarked resources have plummeted from nearly half of all resources in 1997 to less than a quarter today. According to a recent report by the UN Secretary-General, some 91 per cent of all UN development system activities in 2015 were funded with non-core and earmarked or project-based resources. A report that we published a couple of years back showed that between 1999 and 2014, total non-core resources for UN-related activities increased by 182 per cent in real terms, while core resources increased by only 14 per cent. Much of this increase has gone through a proliferating number of UN trust funds.

The growing use of trust funds – where contributions have jumped by 300 per cent over the last decade – allow donor governments and corporate interests to direct UN funding choices outside the ‘one country, one vote’ UN policy processes. This represents a substantial change in the funding architecture of the UN development system, characterised by the growing ‘bilateralisation’ of funding for multilateral aid.

The Third International Conference for Financing for Development launched the Financing for Development Business Compendium, which highlights 33 efforts aimed at mobilising business sector capital, claiming these provide “a strong indication of the broad scope of ongoing initiatives and the potential for scaling up to achieve the demands of the Sustainable Development Goals.” It also launched the Global Infrastructure Forum to bridge the “infrastructure gap.” The AAAA conference outcome document agreed that “to bridge the global infrastructure gap, including the $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion annual gap in developing countries, we will facilitate development of sustainable, accessible and resilient quality infrastructure in developing countries through enhanced financial and technical support.”

To mobilise this support, the AAAA endorsed blended finance and emphasised public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a method of high potential among the instruments of blended finance. In order to assess this potential, it called for “inclusive, open and transparent discussion when developing and adopting guidelines” for PPPs and iterated that they “should share risks, reward fairly, include clear accountability mechanisms and meet social and environmental standards.”

To date, PPPs have been more commonly executed in developed countries, as lower-income countries are less likely to attract large private investors. The extensive use of PPPs in Portugal and Spain contributed to their domestic financial crisis, yet domestic experiences are not informing the donor push for PPPs in developing countries, despite warnings that modalities that were unsuccessful in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries are even more unlikely to succeed in less developed countries, where cost recovery is more difficult.

At a global level, the embrace of partnerships with the business sector brings with it a number of risks, side-effects and spill-over effects that have not received careful consideration regarding compatibility with UN mandates; and their extra-budgetary funding lines remove the global partnerships from regular review and impact assessment.

  1. Are civil society actors being recognised as UN partners alongside corporate actors?

The emphasis on public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder partnerships has technically included civil society organisations (CSOs). For example, member states have adopted mechanisms to support such engagement, such as in the resolution of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and in structuring the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a multi-stakeholder forum (A/RES/68/1). However, this inclusion tends to be procedural and more needs to be done to recognise the expertise and experience of civil society and its contribution in enriching substance in the context for policy decisions as well as in implementation strategies and monitoring. It is essential to differentiate the classifications of non-state stakeholders, rather than lumping them together as partners, and to recognise their different mandates and commitments to the public good.

However the emphasis on multi-stakeholder partnerships tends to be driven by the funding gap issue and it favours the corporate sector.

While CSOs focus on the enabling environment for their participation in key policy streams, it is important to broaden this attention. While the embrace of partnerships continues, the UN Secretary-General’s June 2017 report, ‘Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: ensuring a better future for all’, (A/72/124) has put in motion the mandate from the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR) (A/RES/71/243) to “recalibrate and enhance other critical United Nations skill sets to match the needs of the 2030 Agenda,” and seeks “revamped capacities in partnerships and financing.”

Additionally, the UN Human Rights Council resolution establishing an Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises with respect to Human Rights (OEIGWG), seeks “an international legally binding instrument to regulate, in international human rights law, the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises” (A/HRC/RES/26/9).

The UN General Assembly partnership resolution has been on the General Assembly’s agenda since 2000 and is the main intergovernmental framework in place to govern non-state partnerships and hold them to account. But it lacks robust reporting and implementation. Its latest iteration is ‘Towards global partnerships: a principle-based approach to enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and all relevant partners’ (A/RES/70/224). While it references for the first time the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, its main emphasis continues to be the UN Global Compact’s 10 principles, which pre-date and are inadequate for the comprehensive 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

In December 2017 the UN General Assembly adopted decision A/72/427, in which member states decided to “defer, on an exceptional basis, the consideration of the item entitled ‘Towards global partnerships’ and to include it in the provisional agenda of its seventy-third session.”

  1. What can civil society do to respond to these trends?

There are a number of ways to respond, starting with an analysis and understanding of the overall context within which partnerships are promoted – the inadequate financing of the UN and its mandates by the member states. Crucial for CSOs is to assess their own situation and actions and the extent to which organisations have become passive participants in processes that are very limited, if not counter-productive to the pursuit of human rights and to strengthening the normative ability of the UN.

Another way to take action is to monitor these trends at the UN more broadly than in specific processes and siloes, and be more actively involved in the partnership resolution dynamics and the importance of championing the public interest. This will require strategic substance-led alliances, not ‘big tent’ groupings in which strategies based on substance tend to evaporate.

Additionally, it is important for civil society to undertake monitoring and to mobilise to prevent UN system activities, practices and appointments that undermine UN values-based mandates and that contradict the objectives of the 2030 Agenda.

Finally, civil society actors need to support each other to strengthen the independence of civil society monitoring, not only in developing countries but all countries. An independent civil society cannot rely only on financing through development assistance that focuses primarily on developing country policies and programmes.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Trading away the SDGs?

14. Januar 2018 - 19:59

By Roberto Bissio*


Less than two years after having committed themselves to implement the 2030 Agenda, the same governments that unanimously adopted an ambitious set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) at the UN have failed to translate those promises into action at the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held mid-December in Buenos Aires.

The meeting at the Argentinian capital collapsed without approving a declaration, not even to thank the host country. “We failed to achieve all our objectives,” said the EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in her remarks at a closed meeting of delegation heads in Buenos Aires, according to the audio recording, leaked by the US media outlet and website POLITICO. “The sad reality is that we did not even agree to stop subsidizing illegal fishing” she went on. “I hope all delegations here reflect carefully about the message this sends to our citizens, to our stakeholders and to our children.”

Goal 14 of the SDGs commits governments to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” and its sixth target promises to prohibit, by 2020 “certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation”.

In Buenos Aires, the governments could only “agree to continue to engage constructively in the fisheries subsidies negotiations”1 with a view to adopting an agreement by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in 2019. But this promise cannot be blindly trusted. The previous WTO Ministerial, held in Nairobi in 2015, had similarly agreed to conclude in Buenos Aires the negotiations on agricultural stockholding for food security by developing countries. In spite of that commitment, no agreement was reached last December on this key issue, not even to continue negotiating at the next Ministerial.

This failure to agree on agriculture also contravenes the commitments of the 2030 Agenda. The second SDG, promises to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” and to that effect it spells out as specific targets the commitments to “correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets” and also to “ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets” […] in order to help limit extreme food price volatility.”

Without an agreement on agriculture, not even to continue negotiating these issues, indispensable to achieve the hunger targets, there is no hope for SDG2 to be met.

In the case of “Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights,” known by the acronym TRIPS, the results of the Buenos Aires ministerial were a bit more positive, with a single paragraph resolution that promises to keep discussing the substance of the conflict between patents of medicines, protected by the TRIPS agreement, and making those same drugs affordable. Countries using generics or resorting to compulsory licensing of medicines in the interest of public health risk being sued at the WTO compliance mechanisms. The continuation of the present “peace clause,” committing WTO members not to initiate such complaints while a substantial agreement is being negotiated, was agreed to in Buenos Aires, diluting immediate threats to public health.

The language on health of SDG 3 is carefully formulated, promising to “provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines” but adding “in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on TRIPS regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.”

The TRIPS Agreement is international law, but the “scopes and modalities” of the “flexibilities” that it allows are still being negotiated at the WTO. Meanwhile, the right of developing countries to use those provisions for public health without being threatened by the countries that host the Big Pharma companies is imbedded in the Doha Declaration… a document that the Buenos Aires ministerial failed to reaffirm.

The Doha Declaration was adopted in Qatar in 2001, as a result of the Fourth WTO Ministerial, that launched the still unfinished “Development Round” of trade negotiations, under the US presidency of George W. Bush, a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks in New York. This new round of trade negotiations was supposed to address the issues of concern to developing countries, in particular textiles and agriculture.

Paragraph 68 of the 2030 Agenda resolution called “upon all members of the World Trade Organization to redouble their efforts to promptly conclude the negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda”. The need for WTO new rules or speedy implementation of existing commitments (for example on ‘special and differential treatment’ for LDCs) is mentioned in ten different targets of the SDGs.

The WTO membership is composed of 164 countries, all of which are also members of the UN. But a few weeks after agreeing to the 2030 Agenda in New York, the same countries could not agree at the 10th WTO Ministerial in Nairobi to reaffirm their commitment to conclude the Doha Round. Thus, paragraph 30 of the Nairobi Declaration simply informs that “many Members reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda” while “other Members do not reaffirm the Doha mandates” but the text acknowledges “the strong legal structure of this Organization” and the following paragraph declares “a strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues”, including the “three pillars of agriculture” (domestic support, market access and export competition), as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development, TRIPS and rules.

In Buenos Aires, the Conference Chair Susana Malcorra ciculated a draft ministerial statement that did not mention the word “Doha” but wanted the WTO members to “reiterate paragraphs 30 and 31 of the Nairobi Ministerial Declaration” and “commit to work towards more effective implementation and enforcement of WTO rules as negotiated and agreed by all and underscore the importance of implementing decisions by members.”

The US vetoed that language. Nothing seems less strict than referencing a statement that says that some are in favour and others against… so observers are led to believe that it was the mention to “the strong legal structure” of the WTO what the US intended to block, even at the cost of letting the whole conference collapse.

The “legal structure” of the WTO is not its role as negotiating forum, but its dispute settlement system that applies trade rules to claims raised by members against other members, allowing for the use of proportionate trade sanctions when a country is found guilty of violating trade rules. At the top of that system the Marrakesh Treaty places an Appellate Body, the supreme court of global trade, composed of seven Members with fixed terms.2 The Trump Administration has been blockading the appointment of new members to replace those whose mandate expires, which might soon paralyze that body and thus make the WTO useless and leave the door open to trade wars and unilateral impositions.

The positions of the US government were known in advance and they follow a pattern that is not dissimilar from, for example, the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. What was really surprising during the Buenos Aires ministerial conference is the inability of the other 163 members of the WTO to reaffirm their common faith in “a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization.” This is what their Heads of State agreed to in the 2030 Agenda (target 10 of SDG17, on implementation). Without trade, or rather with international trade governed by the law of the jungle, sustainable development will not be possible.

Instead of trying to come out with some “consensus minus one” common statement, the developed countries, with enthusiastic support from the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Economic Forum and an active lobby of the GAFA-A group (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, with common interests in some issues with the Chinese Alibaba) pushed for partial (non consesnual) agreements with some middle income countries and a few least developed countries on “new issues,” instead of solving the issues of interest to developing countries and mandated by previous conferences.

Thus, the US did sign, together with the European Union, Japan, China, Russia and some middle income countries a “joint statement” promising “to initiate exploratory work together toward future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce”.

This “coalition of the willing” with 70 signatories is not being called plurilateral “because one member is sensitive to the use of terms like plurilateral and multilateral,” said one of the co-sponsors, quoted by SUNS correspondent Ravi Khant.

This coalition wants to advance “electronic commerce work in the WTO in order to better harness (…) opportunities” for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). Yet the Anglo-Ecuadorean analyst Sally Burch, one of the NGO experts banned from attending the conference by the Argentinean authorities, commented that “MSMEs are just the bait to attract support” to the Agenda that the GAFA-A was lobbying for.

This agenda includes “free flow of data”, which actually means the possibility of commodification and appropriation of personal and local data by global corporations, freedom for those corporations to operate in a country without having commercial presence in it (and thus exempted from fiscal and even criminal liabilities), and freedom to offer their services to the public and to the States without having to disclose their algorithms or include local software or expertise.

Two other “joint initiatives” were made public in Buenos Aires (endorsed by many countries, but without consensus to approve them) around what Malcorra called “21st century issues”: investment facillitation (supported by 70 members), MSMEs (87 members) and a “declaration on women and trade”, signed by over one hundred countries.

Some two hundred women groups from around the world immediately condemned the notion that the WTO could contribute to empower women, arguing that “increasing access to credit and cross border trade for a few women will not benefit women’s human rights overall. The declaration is a ‘pink herring’, an attempt to obscure the harm WTO provisions have on women while ensuring the WTO can bring in ‘new issues’, likely to deepen inequality.”3

Similarly, many associations of small and medium-enterprises, mainly from developing countries, condemned the idea of an informal working group on them in the WTO, as well as using supposed benefits for them, but without any consultation, to introduce in the WTO the issue of e-commerce, seen more as a subsidized non tax-paying threat than an advantage.

The introduction of these new issues was opposed by the African Group as a whole, as well as by Bangladesh, India and other countries. South Africa’s trade minister Rob Davies castigated the attempts at Buenos Aires to terminate the special and differential treatment (S&DT) flexibilities for developing countries and “walk away from all mandated issues while embracing new issues, which doesn’t portend well for the organization”. Without reaching first a permanent solution for public stockholding (PSH) programs for food security, as mandated by previous WTO ministerials and by the 2030 Agenda, no new issues of interest mainly for big corporations and their countries of origin should be placed in the agenda for negotiations or “studies”, which in the WTO experience is usually a foot on the door to initiate negotiations.

Without naming the United States, India said, “unfortunately, the strong position of one member against agricultural reform based on current WTO mandates and rules, led to a deadlock without any outcome on agriculture or even a work programme for the next two years.”

The WTO is a young organization, created in 1994 to replace the GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs) that structured world trade after the Second World War. In its short history, it has seen several ministerial conferences collapse (as in Seattle, 1999, and Cancún, 2003). The Obama Administration tried to move the agenda of trade liberalization forward with plurilateral agreements on regional or functional basis, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), or the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), while the European Union actively pursued its own network of agreements like the CETA (EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) , the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific and the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement that could not be finished in time to be announced in Buenos Aires. All those agreements, plus a “spaghetti bowl” of three thousand bilateral investment agreements have shaped economic globalization as we know it, with free flow of capital but not of labour and increased rights and privileges for investors (including the right of foreign investors to sue host States before private arbitration panels) without countervailing rights for workers, citizens or even governments.

Much of the extreme inequalities in the world that Goal 10 of the SDGs promises to address derive from that system, which badly needs reformulation. Yet, with all its unbalances detrimental to developing countries and to workers and consumers everywhere, the WTO dispute settlement mechanism is the only legal mechanism with enough “teeth” to make powerful countries comply to demands from smaller states. Last December, at his arrival to the Buenos Aires conference, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that the WTO is “losing its focus on trade negotiations in favor of litigation”.4

Lighthizer, who once mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be named a WTO appellate judge5, left Buenos Aires the day before the conference ended, which precipitated its collapse, as one of the three trade giants (EU, China, US) lacked a valid interlocutor at the Ministerial.

Deprived both of its role of enabling negotiations (by a major player abandoning the field) and of the arbitration function (for lack of referees), the WTO itself risks being submerged into irrelevancy. International trade is defined by the 2030 Agenda as “an engine for development”. (Paragraph 62). Is it safe to leave it running without map or driver?

– – –
* Coordinator of Social Watch
1 All official documents of the Buenos Aires ministerial can be found here:
2 See
3 The whole statement of women groups is available here:
4 Reported by Reuters. See
5 Reported by the Financial Times. See

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Data is the new gold – development players mine a new seam

27. November 2017 - 14:10

by Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

“Data is the new Gold” headlined a 2014 article in the business press on the marketing power it offers. “Each click, like, and share creates new data in the world, much of which can be used to deliver relevant marketing information and bring increased value to consumer audiences.” Picking up on the potential of so-called Big Data to measure national and global progress on development goals agreed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,  the 2030 agenda has driven a variety of new initiatives, bringing together a vast array of global corporations, foundations, and CSOs ready to mine this new seam.

Three of these new data initiatives are the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), Data 2X and the Digital Impact Alliance, all of which are housed at the UN Foundation and which therefore claim only to advance UN goals and priorities, not the UN itself. Most of them are financed by a few major donors, public and private.

Perhaps the most high-profile of these partnerships is the GPSDD, launched in September 2015. Despite the recommendation of the Independent Experts Advisory Group (IEAG) appointed by then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the global partnership be UN-led, it was decided to go outside. However, rather than create an entirely new entity, which would be time consuming and involve decisions by Member States, it was agreed that it would be hosted by an existing entity, and in November 2015 UNF was selected to serve as “institutional home for the secretariat”. With its honorary chair Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, GPSSD now includes a growing list of   ‘champions’ all working to show governments how their activities – and in many cases their products – can enable  national statistical offices to collect and analyse the data needed to measure achievements towards the SDGs.

Data Champions include a wide variety of governments, corporations, civil society organizations, UN and other international organizations, academic institutions, foundations as well as official statistics and data communities. Being a champion has many meanings and involves diverse relationships, such as advocates and conveners, funders and providers–along with recipients– of various forms of expertise. These include data giants such as MasterCard, IBM, and Facebook, civil society organizations like Civicus, an array of UN development entities, Global Pulse-the Secretary-General’s innovative initiative on big data, the IMF and World Bank Group and a select group of developing countries, such as Colombia, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

A separate entity but active member of the GPSDD is Data2X, a global gender data collaborative  led by the UN Foundation with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ( and, according to the UN Foundation, ongoing collaboration with the Office of Hillary Clinton”.

As a data champion in the GPSDD, DATA2X commits to “bridge the expertise and track record of Data2X and leverage the convening power of the Global Partnership to ensure improved gender data is at the heart of our efforts to drive the data revolution for sustainable development.” It states: “Our work will have a particular focus on private sector engagement and innovations for data collection, analysis, and use to fill persistent gender data gaps”….

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) funded by its “Founding Partners” UNF, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Sweden and USAID, was set up to “to bring the public and private sectors together to realize an inclusive digital society that connects everyone to life enhancing and life-enabling technology.” Staffed by a team of tech researchers, developers, investors, negotiators, and policymakers it claims that “by channeling resources through a neutral entity such as the UN Foundation, and working collaboratively across partners, geographies and verticals, [it] can address the key bottlenecks preventing platforms and services and data for development from scaling”. In June 2017 DIAL announced its own partnership with the World Bank to support its “identification for development (ID4D) efforts”, a World Bank programme intended to help countries increase the number of people with official identification and the development impact of the overall identification system.

Open and accessible data, but who owns it?

The multi-stakeholder data initiatives claim that they make the data they produce from a host of new sources – like cell phones, satellite imagery, bank accounts— totally open and available to National Statistics Offices. In countries that lack the capacity to measure progress through expensive and time-consuming conventional means, such as surveys and questionnaires, the partnership approach is clearly attractive.

To be sure, there could be much to gain for NSOs, struggling to find a way to measure progress on 17 targets and upwards of 340 indicators in the 2030 Agenda. Indicators that gauge public perceptions for example can much more efficiently be measured by professional polling firms, such as Gallup, while indicators of financial inclusion are more efficiently measured by cell phone deposits or credit card subscriptions. But different stakeholders have different rights and responsibilities. Governments are not just one of many stakeholders in these global partnerships but have responsibilities to implement policy, informed by statistics, to achieve the SDGs and will be held accountable for their commitments and performance.

The extent to which governments have enduring rights to analyse data generated through these initiatives largely is influenced by how skillfully they are able to negotiate the terms of the partnership, including the length of its duration.  Licensing of phone companies and regulation of credit card services, for example, is done by government. GPSDD, Data 2X and DIAL serve as platforms to put governments and corporations together and they negotiate a deal – which means that NSOs can offer some useful analysis to companies which in turn continue to give them data access. But in reality the terms of such contracts are also subject to trade and investment rules and intellectual property rights, while Freedom of Information obligations apply only to the public sector, not the private. Additionally, the length of commitment ultimately depends on success of these companies in realizing return on investment – for example, on cell phone users continuing to periodically upgrade and continue to be able to pay for service. Should its business no longer be viable presumably the firm would pull out.

While the global data initiatives all include public and private participants, the primary focus of the Open Data movement has been on the extent to which governments make their statistical data open and available to their citizens – not on whether corporate data gatherers/providers make data open and available to other users.  “Open data exists in a wide variety of fields and domains,” a background paper posted on the Open Data Watch website explains (p.3), adding that the bulk of big data is produced by governments, scientists and corporations. While acknowledging the importance of scientific and corporate data which, like crowdsourced data, “are also often mashed up with open government data”, their own interest is in explaining why open government data matters to developing economies”—

“It is now widely recognized that data as a new kind of asset or knowledge is a form of wealth.” (p.7)

Let the Buyer Beware

These concerns and inconsistencies are at play in a new collaboration between GPSDD and the World Bank’s Development Data Group (DECDG) on data innovation in developing countries, Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development, supported by the Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB).

Through this innovation window, the DECDG and the GPSDD have issued a call for proposals – with a priority for funding work in low- and lower-middle-income countries.  The awards are made in the form of vendor contracts (not grants) and are subject to compliance with the World Bank Group General Terms and Conditions for Consulting Services. These terms and conditions between the awardee (contractor) and the World Bank Group (purchaser) include the following copyright provisions:

21.01 The deliverable report(s) and other creative work developed by the Contractor specifically and exclusively for the Purchaser as provided under the Contract, including all written, graphic, audio, visual and any other materials, contributions, applicable work product and production elements contained therein whether on paper, disk, tape, digital file or any other media, (the “Deliverable Service(s)”) are considered work made for hire in accordance with the copyright laws of the United States. Purchaser is the sole proprietor of the Deliverable Service(s) from the time of their creation and owns all rights, titles and interests therein throughout the world including, without limitation, the copyright and all related rights.

21.03 Under no circumstances shall Contractor use, disclose, reproduce, publish, distribute or display copies to the public, modify, or prepare deliverables produced as a result of or in connection with, the Deliverable Service(s) including derivative works, in whole or in part, without Purchaser’s prior written consent. …

21.04 All right, title and interest (including, without limitation, rights in patents, trademarks, copyright, and related rights) in Contractor’s pre-existing proprietary intellectual property included in the Deliverable Service(s) (the “Pre-Existing Intellectual Property”) shall remain with the Contractor. The Contractor hereby grants the Purchaser and the World Bank Group an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, disclose, reproduce, publish, distribute or display copies to the public, or modify or prepare derivative works of such Pre- Existing Intellectual Property, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of the Contractor.

The new pilot window, introduced in late 2016, approved 15 projects all of which are either regional in scope or, while being conducted at country level, aim at a wider applicability of results.

Among these projects, is one headed by a UN entity – ESCWA. The Activity [5] is to Advance Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems in the Service of Syrian Refugees. Its collaborating organizations include WHO, UNICEF and a Norwegian research foundation with technical support from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

What are implications of a UN entity entering into a research partnership in which its results will be wholly owned by the World Bank under US Copyright law? Who is held accountable for increasing civil registrations?

How to disentangle the blended or obscured governance and reporting responsibilities that result from bilateral agreements between the secretariat of partnerships (UNF) of over 100 data champions and the World Bank?

Where does the responsibility rest for the due diligence needed to protect the mission as well as the credibility of the United Nations, both as a participant and endorser of the GPSDD?

Going beyond access to the question of re-use rights the situation gets more complicated. The World Bank for example has its own internal requirements regarding the openness of its data, but does not entirely follow them: countries and UN agencies that partner with the Bank on reports on different goals – – do not always have right to publish the results of this work, as the World Bank may retain those rights.

Who is accountable for SDG progress?

Similar questions arise with regard to other data collection partnerships involving UN agencies.  ILO, IOM and FAO, for example, have teamed up with Gallup –a US-based opinion polling firm—at times in association with the World Bank. An ILO-Gallup partnership examined how women feel about workplace opportunities while an IOM-International Data Analysis Centre report produced in collaboration with the Gallup World Poll examines public attitudes towards migration. Ownership rights to the results vary. In the case of the ILO-Gallup report on women and work the copyright is owned jointly by ILO and Gallup, while the IOM-Gallup apparently has no copyright restrictions.

More problematic however, is the FAO- Gallup partnership, which involves two SDG indicators that will be used for monitoring and accountability of Member States in implementing the SDGs. A Gallup press release states:

Gallup, on behalf of its clients at the World Bank and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), collects data through its World Poll on the topics of financial inclusion and food insecurity that the two organizations use to inform SDG indicators 8.10.2 and 2.1.2, respectively. …Through the “Voices of the Hungry,” a collaborative project between Gallup and the FAO, Gallup supports FAO’s monitoring of global progress toward the goal to “end hunger (and) achieve food security.”

Although Gallup makes clear that “national institutions” can use the project’s data base, called the Food Insecurity Experience Scale, ultimately the Gallup organization owns the data. However, the official data used to report on progress on the SDGs is meant to be owned by NSOs, a point frequently repeated by all players, from the Statistical Commission to UN agencies, from the World Bank to mobile phone companies.

A similar contradiction is likely to arise regarding a partnership launched in February 2017 between the UN Foundation and Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA)–“Big Data for Social Good” – “which will leverage mobile operators’ big data capabilities to address humanitarian crises, including epidemics and natural disasters. The programme is being launched with 16 of the world’s leading mobile operators, which collectively account for over 2 billion connections across more than 100 countries” according to the UN Foundation.

Thus while data partnerships of all kinds have provided resources and capacity that could assist NSOs in measuring progress on the SDGs, they have apparently been subject to no common rules or guidelines, with each contract different and subject to different restrictions. With different experiences and capacities, NSOs do not have a common approach about whether or how to engage in private sector partnerships and where the responsibility rests to set and ensure related standards. How do NSOs combine being implementers as well as adjudicators?

The use or private sector firms to collect data can divert badly needed funds from the NSOs, despite the expressed concern about the need for capacity building for these offices. It also uses taxpayer money and should make the data available to the public. This concern has been recognized in Mexico, where INEGI is legally required to make all data publically available, but few countries have similar legislation.

What is the UN advocating? How are UN agencies putting in place standards and safeguards or are they avoiding this critical question? How can participants in public-private partnerships ensure public sector access to data generated by or in partnership with the commercial sector?

The same concerns apply to financial data.  An example is the Global Findex Database, operated by the World Bank. The database, collected in partnership with the Gallup World Poll and funded by the Gates Foundation, is based on interviews with individuals in over 140 countries and “provides in depth data on how individuals save, borrow, make payments and manage risks.”

Account ownership is a first step towards financial inclusion. But what really matters is whether people actually use their account – and the data are promising.  More than 65 percent of account users in developing countries report having used their accounts at least three times a month, to save, or to make or receive electronic payments directly from their account. Yet, 1.3 billion adults with an account  in developing countries pay their trash, water, and electric bills in cash, and over half a billion adults with an account in developing countries pay school fees in cash.’ []

Although countries now seem willing to regard ‘financial inclusion’ as an unquestioned good, one which is included in the global indicator framework for the SDGs, is important that it be more than a more sophisticated packaging vehicle for the once widely-embraced microfinance/microcredit programmes, the track record of which is at best mixed. In addition, although the Findex Database is open to NSOs in every country, the data itself is not collected by these offices and so they cannot stand by the results. As with other statistics compiled by international agencies, such as the World Bank on poverty or the ILO on employment, they often challenge the figures through the UN Statistical Commission, requiring agencies to reconcile any discrepancies.

Donor dependency: the new face of tied aid?

TFSCB is a global grant-making facility administered by the World Bank’s Development Data Group “on behalf of contributing donors”—which today include only one, DfID.  As the Trust Fund’s Advisory Panel 2017 report states:

The opening of two new windows has generated new demands for TFSCB grants but presently, its funding situation must be considered precarious. …” As the sole donor DFID “can largely determine the remit and funding priorities of the TFSCB. As a case in point, the recent DFID contribution of $ 20 million was earmarked for data production in household surveys. While this purpose was certainly in alignment with World Bank concerns about the lack of respective data from low capacity countries, a situation could arise where DFID goals in this respect would not be completely in line with TFSCB funding objectives. Attached contributions by a major donor can carry the risk of changing the remit of the TFSCB from its original or core goals if this major donor is responsible for almost the entire TFSCB budget.

Furthermore, financial dependence on one donor makes the TFSCB quite vulnerable to policy changes affecting IDA in the major donor country. A change of government priorities or budget cutbacks could quickly result in a critical funding situation of the TFSCB. Generally speaking, the dependence on one major donor can negatively affect the stability, the topical flexibility and the demand orientation of the TFSCB.

Transparency and accountability

A number of different global initiatives have been agreed in an attempt to move beyond the lack of transparency of information in such areas as aid and investment as well as increase monitoring and accountability.  While again the focus in on governments, particularly developing country governments, the obligation extends in some cases to corporations as well.

A specific initiative for official development assistance is IATI, used by many governments and highlighted in proposals of the Secretary-General  “Strengthening accountability to guide the United Nations development system’s support for implementing the 2030 Agenda” [Chapter V under B. Increasing transparency on system-wide results]

“In strengthening internal accountability to deliver on collective mandates, we will work with the United Nations development system to accomplish the following initiatives:

(b) Reinforced transparency on entity-specific expenditures and results through system-wide enrollment into the International Aid Transparency Initiative, so as to ensure that States and citizens have real-time visibility into our expenditures. Entities will also build upon significant progress in results reporting systems to make the Organization’s contribution to sustainable development more visible and concrete (para: 108).

An initiative that addresses the fraught area of natural resource extraction and public and private actors is EITI, established in 2007, to strengthen the reporting systems of governments and corporations with regard to the extraction of natural resources.  Details about oil, gas and mining contracts and revenues, as well as, most recently, beneficial owners should be transparent in order to inform public debate. But participation requires laws mandating such disclosures, as done in EU and Canada for example, and until recently the US. US legislation was held up because two of its largest oil companies – Chevron and Exxon Mobil- refuse to release this information, including amounts paid in taxes, and the Trump administration simply pulled out of the initiative entirely.

An independent assessment of the impact of this initiative, while applauding the goals of the initiative, found that measuring impact is contentious and ineffective, as it is largely based on the views of different stakeholders engaged in implementation. While relevant to the global accountability agenda, promoted by SDG 17, the initiative lacks any overall metrics for measuring impact, and largely amounts to measurement of perceptions. []

The 2030 Agenda has been successful in shining light on the importance of measurement, data, the data-policy nexus and the need for national ownership, but this has also spawned market place dynamics without uniform standards and processes to determine what is a genuine—and lasting– contribution to these goals and what is just marketing and positioning for funding.

SDGs how you measure matters

by Roberto Bissio

Poverty eradication (“leave no one behind”) is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and, in that regard, it requires to “enhance capacity-building support to developing countries” in order ” to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts” (SDG 17.18). The majority of the world’s poor are rural or live in places of difficult access. They are usually excluded from opinion polls and at the edge or outside the reach of communication technologies. While the private sector may not have much data to contribute to the work of the census takers or household surveyors of NSOs, they have all to win from access to the data generated by statistical offices in planning their market outreach.

On the other end, the very rich are usually left out of household surveys, as they are unlikely to be randomly selected to be interviewed or to answer the pollster ringing their doors if they do. This is why, for example, inequality indexes of wealth based on surveys tend to report less disparity then those based on tax declarations (as underreported as those might be). The private banks and credit companies could provide valuable information here, but are unlikely to do so.

The potential conflicts of interests and different definitions of privacy are already leading to major conflicts between European regulators and big data corporations. Which privacy and confidentiality rules will prevail when developing country NSOs and big data holders come together in a partnership?

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Big Data, Small Print

27. November 2017 - 14:00

by Barbara Adams and Karen Judd

A collaborative venture among three UN organizations– ESCWA, WHO, UNICEF—together with a Norwegian research foundation and a Belgian university, has all the hallmarks of the proliferating partnerships being launched to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs, particularly regarding data.

The partnership to Advance Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems in the Service of Syrian Refugees was awarded a grant through the Collaborative Data Innovations for Sustainable Development, a new collaboration between the World Bank’s Development Data Group (DECDG) on data innovation in developing countries and the Global Partnership on Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD), whose members include UN agencies and governments as well as big data behemoths like MasterCard.  Supported by the Bank’s Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB), the award recognizes the fact that advancing civil registration and vital statistics, one of the SDG targets, has the potential to mobilize resources to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and ensure no-one is left behind.

Becoming on a par with money to implement the 2030 Agenda, the drive for better data to measure progress has spawned a plethora of independent initiatives to support the official work of national statistics offices (NSOs), in addition to the Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics, set up by the UN Statistical Commission.

Through its collaborative data innovation window, the DECDG and GPSDD issued a call in late 2016 for proposals, particularly for work in low- and lower-middle-income countries. This new window has approved 15 projects all of which are either regional in scope or, while being conducted at country level, aim at a wider applicability of results.

The devil is in the details

The awards are made in the form of vendor contracts (not grants) and are subject to full compliance with the World Bank Group General Terms and Conditions for Consulting Services between the awardee (contractor) and the World Bank Group (purchaser). These include the following copyright provisions:

21.01 The deliverable report(s) and other creative work developed by the Contractor specifically and exclusively for the Purchaser as provided under the Contract…are considered work made for hire in accordance with the copyright laws of the United States. Purchaser is the sole proprietor of the Deliverable Service(s) from the time of their creation and owns all rights, titles and interests therein throughout the world including, without limitation, the copyright and all related rights.

21.03 Under no circumstances shall Contractor use, disclose, reproduce, publish, distribute or display copies to the public, modify, or prepare deliverables produced as a result of or in connection with, the Deliverable Service(s) including derivative works, in whole or in part, without Purchaser’s prior written consent. …

21.04 All right, title and interest (including, without limitation, rights in patents, trademarks, copyright, and related rights) in Contractor’s pre-existing proprietary intellectual property included in the Deliverable Service(s) (the “Pre-Existing Intellectual Property”) shall remain with the Contractor. The Contractor hereby grants the Purchaser and the World Bank Group an irrevocable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, disclose, reproduce, publish, distribute or display copies to the public, or modify or prepare derivative works of such Pre- Existing Intellectual Property, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of the Contractor.

More questions than answers

What are implications of a UN entity entering into a research partnership in which its results will be wholly owned by the World Bank under US Copyright law?

What governance and regulations are needed to ensure that public-private initiatives on data will not result in countries—or UN organizations–having to buy back their own data or seek permission to use it and give access to use of “pre-existing” intellectual property.…all in the name of achieving the SDGs?

How will the UN or Member States disentangle the blended or obscured governance and reporting responsibilities that result from bilateral agreements between the secretariat of partnerships (UN Foundation) of over 100 data champions and the World Bank?

Where does the responsibility rest for the due diligence needed to protect the mission as well as the credibility of the United Nations, as a participant or endorser of the GPSDD?

These are a few of the issues explored in greater detail in the Global Policy Watch briefing, “Data Is the New Gold”. It addresses the activities and implications of the UN partnering with private sector generators of big data, such as mobile phone companies and opinion poll guru Gallup, Inc., asking who ultimately owns the results of these partnerships.

Kategorien: english, Ticker