During a workshop that was held on 1 and 2 November 2019, Prof Derick de Jongh, Director of the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership (ALCRL), participated in a high-level panel discussing the role of leadership in multi-sector partnerships.
The workshop was co-organised by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the African Union (AU)/African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Prof De Jongh states: “Given the importance of a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is critical to engage all stakeholders in decision-making so that they have ownership of SDG-related policies and strategies and understand interactions among them. This will also help to leverage synergies and determine how to resolve trade-offs.”
Institutional arrangements may also involve different stakeholders, including key line ministries, sub-national and local levels of government, parliament, human rights institutions, civil society organisations, and the private sector. These partnerships can work to mobilise all stakeholders around the SDGs and promote change.
Panel members discussed incentives for collaboration, promotion of issue-based approaches and related institutional arrangements, public administration practices, mechanisms, capacities and budgetary arrangements. Prof De Jongh focused on the role of leadership in collaborative regimes. He specifically pointed out that the practice of leadership in such complex collaborative arrangements should not be under-estimated.
SDG 17, which focuses on strengthening the means of implementation by revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development, emphasises the complex leadership landscape if partnerships becomes the main driver for implementation. Different core businesses, stakeholders, normative obligations, governance principles, ideologies and mandates bear testimony to the complexity of leadership. Furthermore, competing interests and power dynamics will require significant negotiations between the various sectors to reach consensus and agree on common interests.
Prof De Jongh explained that in these complex partnerships, management is often confused with leadership. “As much as the SDGs are seen as a vision for a better world, they are riddled with goals, targets and objectives leading to a managerial compliance mindset instead of values-based and normative understanding of what the intention of the SDGs is,” he said.
It remains the role of leaders in these various sectors to ensure a more transformational approach to the SDGs than simply a compliance approach. For this to happen, leaders will have to negotiate the leadership space and be willing to relinquish power and transcend self-interest. Leadership should be distributed at all levels and not something “residing only at the top”.
Prof De Jongh argued that in such negotiated spaces, leadership is co-created by all sectors where the role of no specific sector is more important than another. Simply put, without trust, open communication and building long-term relationships, it will be very difficult for leaders across sectors to see the SDGs as transforming the world into a better place.
He also shared a joint research project between the ALCRL and Zeppelin University (Germany) with the audience. This research aims to investigate the micro-dynamics of multi-sector partnership for the SDGs in an attempt to advance the theory and practice of relational leadership. Case studies of multi-sector partnerships in SA and Germany will be developed. The emerging economy perspectives in relation to developed economy perspectives provide rich context for analysing leadership and by so doing, filling much needed gaps in leadership literature.
From left to right: Mr Bernard Rey, Head of Cooperation, European Union Delegation to South Africa; Ms Prateema Kutwoaroo, Senior Analyst, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and International Trade, Mauritius; Moderator: Mr Ayodole Odusola, Resident Representative, UNDP South Africa; Prof Derick de Jongh, Director, Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership, University of Pretoria