04/16/2014 05:52 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

Partnerships Are Essential to Addressing Nutrition and Post-2015 Development Goals

Should multi-stakeholder partnerships be a corner stone of the post-2015 development framework? Last week I was part of a panel addressing the UN General Assembly and Economic and Social Council on this question. I argued that these partnerships are essential in mobilizing support and investment to address malnutrition globally, and it is critical that the new sustainable development goals reflect this priority.

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), one of the defining features of the 'development system' has been a shift to include - alongside governments and multilateral institutions - non-state actors such as the private sector, NGOs, special interest groups, philanthropic foundations and others. In the area of global health, many of these structures were institutionalized and given mandates to galvanize actions in a range of areas neglected by existing institutional arrangements. Indeed this is where the organization I lead, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), was born, following on the heals of the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. Similar multi-stakeholder partnerships emerged in many other sectors and today they are common features of the development landscape.

It is true multi-stakeholder partnerships were not welcomed by all. It is also true not all have been a success. Some viewed them as a threat to the existing institutional architecture, as money and responsibility shift away from multilateral institutions. The involvement of the private sector has been most heavily criticized, accused of pursuing a corporate-centric agenda and only interested in opening new markets. These partnerships have also been challenged for lacking transparency and accountability, as well as failing to address vested interests and conflicts between stakeholders.

Over the years these criticisms have been addressed head on, especially in the more institutionalized partnerships. Critically, the UN system has moved to embrace them. As the UN Secretary General said at our meeting, "Now we must enhance our own capacities to work with these new actors if we are to leverage their full potential to help achieve a transformative post-2015 development agenda."

There is a great deal to learn from the experience of multi-stakeholder partnerships in food and nutrition security. My answer to the question on their role in the post MDGs is that they are essential. Governments on their own don't have the funding, skills or reach to succeed.

But these partnerships do need clear structures, transparent working arrangements, and some form of intellectual and policy structure to measure performance and direct them. There are many examples of successful partnerships, but two worth citing are the role of multi-stakeholder partnerships in program delivery and advocacy.

GAIN's program to fortify with micronutrients staples such as wheat and maize flour, edible oils and salt have been implemented through national stakeholder partnerships of government, business and civil society and today reach almost a billion people. At the sector level, the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement has been hugely successful in galvanizing action by all stakeholders under one tent, with 50 governments at the core of this movement having committed to scale up nutrition in their countries.

Both examples were successful because they had 'backbone' structures to facilitate, support and help coordinate these multi-stakeholder partnerships. The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently recognized GAIN's role in the delivery of nutrition programs as a backbone structure. The SUN movement and secretariat certainly qualifies as well.

As we look to the new sustainable development goals, it is important not only that food and nutrition security be recognized as an important priority, but that they also reinforce successful multi-sector partnerships like SUN and the backbone structures that makes them effective.