March 30, 2022
As the annual Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development or APFSD of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) kicked off last Monday in Bangkok, Thailand, advocacy groups Reality of Aid-Asia Pacific (RoA-AP), Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), and CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness-Asia (CPDE Asia) held a side event on March 29, 2022 via Zoom and Facebook Live.
Dubbed “Building Back Better, Together: How can SDG 17 and civil society partnerships ensure genuine development in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic?” which takes inspiration from this year’s APFSD’s theme, the forum gave space to civil society organizations (CSOs) from different countries in Asia-Pacific to talk about the status of Sustainable Development Goal 17 (SDG 17, officially phrased as “Partnerships for the Goals” by the UN) implementation in the region and how it responds to urgent people’s issues such as the poverty, hunger, health, quality education, gender inequality, climate change, among others.
Jahangir Hasan Masum, Chairperson of RoA-AP and Executive Director of Coastal Development Partnership (CDP), noted in his keynote speech that in the time of COVID-19, the role of civil society was unclear to other stakeholders. This became a huge obstacle, he said, as successful pandemic management “needs active engagement in the population”. This is in the context that partnerships between stakeholders seem to be challenged even from the grassroots level.
Eufemia Doringo, Secretary General of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) who spoke in the first panel shared how the COVID-19 impacted their organization. She cited the overly-militarized pandemic response of the Duterte government as a great hindrance to their community work in ensuring services for their marginalized constituents.
On the other hand, Tirtha Prasad Saikia, Joint Director of North-East Affected Area Development Society (NEADS), said that CSOs should be categorized as frontliners as they “have the capacity of initiating early and quick response during crisis situations”, especially local CSOs who “can reach out to the unreached and the most vulnerable to save more lives”.
The speakers raised concern over the continuing corporate capture of foreign aid and other development assistance programs, saying that it takes away so much from the poor and needy while pushing CSO voices and the people off the negotiation table.
The second panel talked about civil society alternatives and ways forward in ensuring the democratization of the development processes towards the meaningful, transformative, and inclusive implementation of SDG 17.
“[The Istanbul Principles of Development Effectiveness] recognizes that the civil society is a development actor in its own right”, Emeline Siale Ilolahia, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) asserted. She also mentioned that civil society should demand justice, gender equality, transparent and accountable systems, and government support to realize the value of multistakeholder partnerships on the implementation of all the SDGs.
“From what prism should we look into the progress of SDG 17, especially in multi-stakeholder partnerships? From the point of view of companies? The point of view of the government? Or the point of view of the people?”, Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna Partylist asked after pointing out how multi-dimensional crises, aggravated by the pandemic and respective government responses, facilitated the profiteering agenda of the private sector vis-a-vis the worsening condition of marginalized sectors.
“Do we have to go back to what it was before (COVID-19? Or shall we build better?” he further added.
CPDE Asia Focal Person and Nash Vek Public Foundation Director Chinara Aitbaeva concluded the program by highlighting the proactive role of civil society in pushing for partnerships for sustainable development: “in building back better, we must collectively assert our rights and demand for systemic change, which puts peoples’ interests at the center of development. It is only through this kind of partnership will the goals be sufficiently and genuinely achieved.” ###
Watch the forum here