The efforts are piloting a new way of reaching out to civil society by the Dutch government within the contex of a protracted crisis call for proposals that was issued last year. It shows acknowledgement of the fact that solutions can't be solemny crafted by state parties based on sound policy advice. In order to effectuate change, strategic partnerships between public and private agencies are required to tackle some of the most wicket problems that international cooperation reveals. For most of us for obvious reasons. It will only be a matter of time before also private investors will need to step on board of these partnerships and play their part, connecting 'aid' and 'trade' in a sensible manner.
From stakeholder to partner
Already a number of years the so-called stakeholder consultations are very popular in the development landscape. Often perceived as a participatory process, stakeholder consultations bring all those who have influence and power around the table to get the different stakes on the table. It is also used to be able to deal with problems that are cross-sectoral and require several line ministries to express their views. However that does not make it participatory. Often the real stakeholders are not at the policy table or at best poorly represented. The recent move of the Dutch government to form strategic partnerships with a number of NGOs is a recognition of the fact that the boots on the ground are often missing at the policy table. In various fora it has been questioned whether NGOs do have those boots on the ground, especially development partners with their main base in the Netherlands. It is fair to say that often they do not directly implement projects themselves and often manage a portfolio of partner contracts instead. However, these local partners may face serious limitations in sharing their views with public policy makers. Hence the linkages to trusted partners abroad helps them doing so, though in an indirect way.
Appreciating shared challenges
Last week I had the priviledge to facilitate a workshop where, due to the strategic partnership of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a Dutch NGO also local partners were willing to share their perspective while also learning about the policy objectives of the Ministry for the region. All did consider the process as highly valuable. Prior to the workshop a number of fears and anxieties were expressed by both public and private parties involved in the partnership. Getting to know each other's policy environment helped tremendeously in reducing these tensions and brought to the surface common concerns. One workshop cannot do the job, but already the first fruits of public-private interactions were harvested.
It would be good in processes of engagement to identify areas of common concern that drive the partnership and help people coming together. Still missions may not entirely overlap, roles may be different, but the shared ambition will glue parties together in a common strive for change. In these partnerships divergent perspectives may feature but won't separate parties in working together on a common cause. The deadline for submission of applications for strategic partnership with the Dutch government is approaching. I am just hoping that parties won't 'sell' their 'known packages' to the Ministry, but challenge themselves to think beyond their own mission and are able to identify a common cause. This should not prevent agencies to stay true to their own mission. In fact they may invite public parties to come over and get to know them, only to recognize that some causes are shared and important synergies exist and could be utilized to get to SMART solutions.