How partnerships can help cities make the New Urban Agenda a reality

By Marie-Alexandra Kurth

The vibrant, multi-level partnerships that have been formed in Accra through the Cities Alliance Land, Services and Citizenship programme show why inclusive partnerships are our best chance of achieving sustainable development.

This July, Ghana held its sixth National Urban Forum. Representatives of local and national governments, communities, practitioners, and other development partners came together to share their views on the New Urban Agenda, urban infrastructure financing, and how to implement Ghana’s National Urban Policy.

The Forum clearly highlighted the strong partnerships that have developed between Ghana’s stakeholders, and how these partnerships are shaping urban development in the country. This is especially true in Accra, where Cities Alliance supports the Land, Services and Citizenship (LSC) programme, an initiative of the Government of Ghana that focuses on building partnerships and aligning urban development efforts at the national, city and community levels.

For example in slum neighbourhoods across Accra residents are working together with the local and national government to improve their living conditions and have a say in the development of their city – something which many residents would have found unimaginable in the past.

With the support of the non-profit organisation People’s Dialogue, a key partner in the LSC initiative, residents have mobilised and gathered data on the city’s many informal settlements, such as the number of inhabitants, and whether they have access to basic services such as portable water and electricity. Once the settlements have been mapped and profiled, communities present this data to the local government, and together both entities decide which interventions should be prioritised.

At the national level, GIZ – also a major partner in the LSC partnership programme – cooperates with the Ghanaian Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development to support the implementation of the National Urban Policy and National Urban Action Plan, which are both designed to achieve sustainable and inclusive urban development.

How partnerships can help cities thrive
Accra’s experience is an excellent example of why inclusive, multi-level partnerships are so important, especially as cities turn their attention to implementing the New Urban Agenda that will be finalised at Habitat III in Quito in October 2016.

As the famed architect-critic Jane Jacobs noted, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” It is not enough for cities to be shaped by governments that take into account the needs of their citizens; to really provide “something for everybody”, cities also need to bring the private and public sector together and be in constant dialogue with each other and non-state organisations and actors.

Only with partnerships can we begin to address the many global development challenges posed by rapid urbanisation. Particularly in the Global South, the emergence and expansion of slums and informal settlements create huge problems for cities and their residents.

By cooperating with each other, as well as with multiple stakeholders and across different levels of governance, cities can make better use of the expertise and capacities around them and be effectively recognised as actors in the political decision-making processes. Such cooperation is critical to exchanging knowledge and creating innovative, inclusive concepts and ideas that tap the great potential for sustainable development inherent to the local level and elsewhere.

What makes a partnership effective?
There are many different types of partnerships. They can exist on different levels between multiple actors or stakeholders, and they can serve different purposes. They can be achieved through international cooperation, or be created by national, regional, and local governments, civil society organisations (CSOs), the private sector, academia or non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

In a well-established, inclusive partnership, all parties share common principles and work towards a common objective that constitutes an added value for all. In order to work together towards joint successes, it is critical that all parties know and acknowledge their respective needs, and take all concerns and challenges seriously. This approach positively impacts the overall decision-making processes in the partnership.

In an urban context, inclusive partnerships that take into account all possible stakeholders and their interests place a special emphasis on working together with civil society. In many cities, especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia, 30-40 per cent of the urban population lives in informal settlements. In this context of informality, inclusive partnerships tend to focus on the needs of slum dwellers as well as other marginalised groups. Cooperation between NGOs, CSOs and the government, for instance, can offer those who struggle with political neglect and social exclusion a platform to voice their needs and visions – thus enabling them to create a sense of ownership for future development.

NGOs and CSOs, such as People’s Dialogue in Ghana, play a crucial role as they often provide access to the informal sector or to unsafe areas where governments do not operate, and where in return residents do not trust the government. This establishes and fosters a sustainable dialogue and builds bridges between the urban population and local governments.

Partnerships are gaining traction with the New Urban Agenda
Inclusive partnerships are gaining more and more relevance at the international level. In the lead-up to Habitat III in Quito, a number of stakeholders from different constituencies, including the German Federal Government, have recognised partnerships as a vital aspect of the New Urban Agenda.

Importantly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Zero Draft of the New Urban Agenda both highlight partnerships as a key driver of sustainable development. Both agendas recognise partnerships as an important instrument to implement good governance through cooperation and the exchange of knowledge.

SDG 17, for instance, specifically calls for the revitalisation of a global partnership for sustainable development and emphasises the need for “multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilise and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries”.

In this context, local governments inevitably must play a key role. If they are not recognised as key actors by other stakeholders, or are unwilling to enter into dialogue, unleashing the productive and dynamic potential of partnerships will be exceedingly difficult.

Achieving sustainable development will not be easy. Only through inclusive partnerships and effective collaboration and co-production across borders and administrative levels, and together with all stakeholders, can a way forward be found.

Marie-Alexandra Kurth

Marie-Alexandra Kurth

Senior Urban Specialist at Cities Alliance
Alexandra Kurth joined Cities Alliance in March 2014 and works as a Senior Urban Specialist in the Programme Unit. She is the most recent in a long line of GIZ staff that have been very successfully seconded to the Cities Alliance Secretariat. She is the Task Manager for the Ghana Country Programme and the focal point for the Habitat III Joint Work Programme. She also provides support to the Latin America and Caribbean Region and the Resilience Joint Work Programme.
Marie-Alexandra Kurth