Fighting Poverty Is About ‘How’ Not ‘How Much?’

children2World leaders gathered at the United Nations last month to adopt a new set of global development goals that aim to end extreme poverty, promote inclusive economic growth, and protect the planet. The result is an ambitious yet achievable agenda for the 21st century, if we harness 21st century development practices.

To reach these new global development goals, we need to focus on how we invest in development not just how much.

Many of today’s challenges are too complex and big for government or business alone to solve. Public-private partnerships will play a key role in driving progress on the new global development agenda.

Take the issue of cooking. Three billion people rely on open fires and traditional stoves and fuels, producing smoke that causes more than four million premature deaths a year. Women and children are especially affected.

Transforming how so many people cook is no simple task. Clean cooking is an energy issue, a health issue, an environmental issue, a women’s empowerment issue, and in many countries a social and cultural issue.

Addressing this challenge requires many steps, such as conducting research, developing grading standards, educating households, creating demand, developing new distribution models, and changing practices ingrained over centuries.

To achieve change on this scale, we need the strengths and expertise of all sectors and communities at the table.

The United Nations Foundation and Tata Trusts, along with numerous partners and donors, are working with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves a public-private partnership aiming to build a thriving global market for clean cookstoves and fuels.

The Alliance serves as a conductor of a diverse orchestra of 1,300 actors from governments to businesses to academic institutions and women’s cooperatives while pooling varied financial resources from both public and private sectors.

The Alliance has helped create a cohesive ecosystem to tackle the cookstoves challenge, providing a platform to share information and knowledge, leverage financial and human resources, and strengthen cooperation, among other benefits.

Since its founding in late 2010, the Alliance has helped spur the adoption of cleaner, more efficient cooking solutions in nearly 30 million homes, putting it on target to reach its goal of 100 million homes by 2020.

[raised quote: On target to reach 100 million homes]

As the international community looks ahead to implementing the new global goals, many of the lessons from the Alliance’s operating model could help strengthen public-private partnerships to achieve the next development agenda.

Four recommendations from our experience and that of the Alliance:

Engage early and often with the people and communities that you aim to reach.

The market-based approach of “know your customer” is key – and vastly different from traditional aid
approaches, as research in the cookstoves and fuels sector has shown. Engaging with existing community institutions to understand their needs and get regular feedback leads to a comprehensive technology-based solution at both the product and the business-model levels.

For example, because women are primarily responsible for fuel collection and cooking, initiatives that put
them at the center of the value chain – from product development to marketing and sales – promote
more consistent and correct stove usage, while also boosting sales.The result is a productive synergy with local economies.

This approach helps transmit bottom-up knowledge from communities to program designers and, at the same time, sensitizes communities to the benefits of clean-cooking methods.

Go local.

Effective organization models don’t just focus on the global, but employ clearly defined roles and strong and long-lasting local footprints.It is critical to build local capacity to support current and future collaborative engagement among a set of local actors to ensure sustainability.

Make financing flexible and accessible.

Development interventions need multi-year, flexible financing initially, followed by longer-term results based financing. Organizations can be more effective if they can plan beyond one fiscal year at a time. They also need to be able to adapt to conditions on the ground and to measure progress.

We have seen the importance of this flexibility with the Alliance, with Gavi the global vaccine alliance – and with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Furthermore, while official development assistance is important, we must tap into the more creative range of private and public resources that can and should be leveraged.

Results-based financing is an important tool that gives the opportunity to enhance financing while ensuring accountability. Blending public and private capital can create a multiplier effect that is more sustainable in the long-term.

Define priorities. Create metrics. Measure effectiveness.

To deliver on our next set of global development goals, we must hold ourselves accountable. That requires
us to set clearly defined priorities, make room for innovations in technology, business models, and community engagements, and develop appropriate metrics to measure whether we are meeting our goals.

This will also allow us to know when and how to scale a particular approach and whether we need to make course corrections.

We are in a new era of development that recognizes the need for fresh approaches and engagement from all sectors.

These lessons can help the international community move beyond traditional models and strengthen public-private partnerships so we can translate our next set of global goals from words to lasting change.

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Source: Kathy Calvin is the President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation. R. Venkataramanan is the Executive Trustee of the Tata Trusts.

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