No.46-April 2017

by Stephen Browne and Thomas G. Weiss

An SDG Fund: Supporting the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda


Implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) began in 2016. This Briefing spells out the main features of a possible appropriate funding mechanism to support the UN Development System (UNDS) in meeting its responsibilities for post-2015 development challenges and in helping member-states to achieve the 2030 sustainable development agenda. 

The UN Development System in a Changing World
There is an ongoing process of change in the UN development system, albeit a slow one given the size of the challenges. At the country level, more UN country teams (UNCTs) are endorsing the principles of Delivering as One (DaO), which have spread from the original eight pilot countries. There is evidence of more joint programming. Across the system, newly-agreed standard operating procedures seek to foster greater program harmonization. UN organizations continue to plead for more core resources, but they are resigned to the continuing—and seemingly ever-growing—preference by donors for earmarking.

The organizations of the UNDS have begun to apply themselves to the task of supporting member states in meeting the SDGs. At the country level, UNCTs are consulting with governments on their needs and convening stakeholders — including from civil society and the private sector — to mobilize local support, thus far without a common funding base. The role of the UNDS must be distinctive and play to the specific advantages of the world body.

A slowly reforming UN development system is occurring against the backdrop of a rapidly changing development landscape and aid realities.

A Focused “Multi-Partner Funding Initiative”
The ongoing UN reform processes and the changing development realities together constitute the practical boundaries that circumscribe proposals for future mechanisms of funding to sustain the post-2015 development agenda. Such proposals can best be framed around six key considerations:

- Country ownership, including emphasis on national plans to establish cross-sectoral priorities and sequencing of individual country SDGs;
- Governance, including the shape of structures from central steering committees to country teams in order to reflect priorities;
- Partnerships, including the involvement of the for-profit private sector and civil society;
- Country eligibility, including the need to emphasize the needs of the least developed and fragile or conflict-prone countries;
- Next phase of DaO, including joint programming and multisectoral projects with reduced transaction costs; and
- Resources, including management of resources at the country level through joint funding and with oversight by agency headquarters.

Country Ownership
The critical condition which underlies our proposed multi-partner funding initiative is the alignment of country ownership of the development process with the new global member states agenda, the SDGs. Thus, its overriding purpose is to identify and define the requirements at the national level for the achievement of the global goals, taking fully into account local realities and constraints.

There are two specific objectives of the new fund. The first is to support requesting countries in the development of their own national strategies to accomplish the 2030 sustainable development agenda. The second objective is to draw up and mobilize funding for more specific operational plans through which the UNDS and its constituent organizations—acting together and drawing on operational comparative advantages—can contribute to their achievement.

These two objectives will determine the nature of the two windows of the new multi-partner initiative. Window One will provide direct support to countries for the development of appropriate national strategies. Window Two of the new fund will be concerned with UN support to implement the national strategies designed to help meet the goals.

In Sum
We recommend that a new and substantial multi-partner fund be established under the auspices of the UN Deeopment Group, consistent with the spirit and principles of the SDGs, to undergird the UNDS in two of its most important, and unrivalled, functions: Window One would assist individual countries to formulate national development strategies and monitor arrangements that are compatible with the SDGs; and Window Two would help UN country teams to assist individual countries drawing on the specific comparative advantages of the UN development system.

This new multi-partner funding initiative should:

- Be of substantial size, with several official and non-state donors;
- Subsume several existing One Funds, and be financially managed by the MPTFO;
- Include multi-year pledges;
- Be managed by a central steering committee;
- Empower the UNDS field system through the UNCTs and local steering mechanisms for management oversight and monitoring;
- Promote joint programming within the system (minimum of two implementing agencies) with a clearly designated lead organization;
- Respond to locally identified needs; and
- Capture knowledge centrally for the benefit of the UN system as a whole.

The ideas in this briefing were originally explored in Stephen Browne and Thomas G. Weiss, Supporting The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Lessons from MDGFund (New York: UNDP and FUNDS, 2015).


Download 'An SDG Fund: Supporting the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda' in pdf      

Stephen Browne is Co-director of the Future UN Development System Project (FUNDS) and Senior Fellow of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, visiting lecturer at the Graduate Institute, Geneva and former Deputy Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, Geneva. He is the author of several books on development and the UN, including Sustainable Development Goals: Seven Decades of UN Goal-setting (2017, forthcoming), The United Nations Development Programme and System (2011), and co-editor with Thomas G. Weiss of Post-2015 UN Development: Making Change Happen? (2014).
Thomas G. Weiss is Presidential Professor of Political Science and Director Emeritus of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at The City University of New York’s Graduate Center; he also is Co-director of the FUNDS Project. 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, Past President of the International Studies Association and its 2016 Distinguished IO Scholar, and past chair of the Academic Council on the UN System, his most recent single-authored books include What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix It (2016); and Humanitarian Intervention: Ideas in Action (2016); Governing the World? Addressing “Problems without Passports” (2014); Global Governance: Why? What? Whither? (2013); and Humanitarian Business (2013).

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