The 2030 Agenda: no poverty reduction without policy coherence

Photo: Knots

Crucial actors need to commit to collaboration

G20 member countries play a crucial role in international organisations by the collective size of their economies and combined political weight, both of which are needed to make the policies of international organisations as coherent as possible to reduce poverty in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).



However, successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) for the benefit of LDCs will require boundary spanning by the United Nations Agencies, the G20 Countries and leading Development NGOs. Realisation of the SDGs therefore requires cross-sector cooperation and cross-institutional cooperation amongst those International Organisations (IOs) that are often mandated by G20 members to implement their own development strategies intended for the poor. And yet, these same IOs are not sufficiently equipped to deal with the kind of cross-sector and cross-institutional cooperation needed to achieve the SDGs. They also are often not at ease in cooperating with leading NGOs and philanthropic organisations, even when operating in the same policy space.

These crucial actors need to go beyond policy isolationism and commit to policy collaboration within their institutions and with other actors.

To illustrate the above observation, consider the following two situations of policy incoherence. The first gives a specific example of inadequate policy coordination by key actors involved in the implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) designed by the Bretton Woods Institutions for LDCs. The second example relates to the contradictions between Labour Rights in free trade agreements (FTAs) signed by the USA, EU, and Australia versus the same actors’ behaviour during Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs) of human rights involving their FTA partner countries.

Vertical and Horizontal Health Policies not complementary

Support for the precarious health conditions and health sectors commonly found in LDCs is provided by the World Health Organisation, The World Bank, UNICEF, the ILO, major national development agencies like DFID, USAID, JAICA, and leading NGOs like Oxfam, Global Fund and Foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Policy coordination among these actors in the context of the PRS in the health sector was found to be insufficient.

Policies aimed at improving the health sector are tragically flawed, due to the tendency to lean towards more “vertical programs” of health provision by international organizations, national governments, and donor agencies. Vertical health programs are initiatives that are ‘disease-specific projects’. Horizontal health programs on the other hand are aimed ‘towards more broad-based improvements in population health, such as preventive measures, primary health care services, health workforce development’ and health system strengthening.

Vertical health programs alone are not enough to improve the overall health of a society. The large amounts of funding invested in such vertical programs as AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria prevention are thus creating inefficiency and waste, due to the neglect of other cross-cutting issues pertinent to those campaigns. The lack of communication between different health care initiatives has resulted in program overlaps, operational confusion and squandering of funds on the ground level. The Ebola epidemic demonstrated the inadequate policy coordination between the actors mentioned above.

Implementation of Labour Rights in FTAs not harmonized with UPR practice

SDG 8 promotes sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Trade agreements like FTAs concluded by the USA, EU and Australia often include provisions safeguarding of labour rights. However, in research conducted by the authors, when comparing these FTAs with the countries’ interactions with their trade partners during the Universal Periodic Review Sessions and the official trio of UPR documents, policy incoherence became apparent.

The authors’ core observations were that the USA and Australia often lack a clear direction in their policy when approaching UPR sessions. The recommendations of these states during UPR sessions tend to be misaligned with that of the official UPR reports. In the case of the USA, it tends to make generalised recommendations whilst not targeting specific areas of labour rights. In Australia’s case, it lacks labour provisions in most of its trade agreements, thus making it harder to evaluate its policy in this regard. Policy incoherence is self-evident between labour provisions of the bilateral trade agreements and upholding human/labour rights in other policy Arenas.

In relation to the EU, while it does make detailed recommendations to its trade partners regarding labour conditions and keeps more in line with the official UPR reports, still more could be done; especially involving the major members of the EU in advancing the FTA-labour rights dialogue.

In this example, if the USA, EU and Australia are to present a coherent and unified front in combating labor rights violations, they should better align their recommendations during UPR sessions with the recommendations of the official reports particularly in the case of the USA and Australia. Incidentally, one such way of tracking progress would be to develop a quantitative human rights index that records and ranks countries based on their commitment to human and labor rights.

Boundary Conditions and Policy Coherence

Policy coherence is linked to the concept of boundary elasticity, which describes a state between permeable and non-permeable boundary conditions of a system. Such elasticity is considered as a basic characteristic of system resilience when dealing with uncertainty and multifaceted disruptions. During Germany’s G20 presidency, the authors hope that enabling policies and mechanisms will be explored so that different IOs could maintain a balance between the two boundary conditions, not least during the implementation of the SDGs.

The intensity of globalisation spurred forth by ideology and technology has “washed away” many of the former organisational boundaries that existed between IOs due to political or populist pressure, IOs sometimes pursue policy paths that are not necessarily central to their mandate, while other actors with a stronger or at least equal claim to an IO’s time and resources can be side-lined due to relative lack of influence.

One policy resource or modality that IOs might explore further is the creation of alternative policy spaces that allow for a multitude of voices to be presented in debates, so that policy making processes can be enriched, rather than hijacked by minority interests. Another modality could be to create formal policy coordination mechanisms with incentives and disincentives that guide the IOs towards more policy coherence and policy coordination. A score card could be established by an organisation which assesses IOs ability and willingness to cooperate with other IOs and relevant NGOs and issue suggestions to G20 donor agencies about which of the IOs deserves more funds, or conversely, which of the IOs should be get their funding reduced. A third modality would be to introduce process accountability measures to ensure traceability and transparency on how policies are actually made and implemented.

Both organisational boundary elasticity and better governance coherence is needed to ensure better cooperation between the donors, G20 member countries and international development NGOs, not only for the benefit of the LDCs, but also to ensure a successful implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.


For development partnerships to be successful, such as Agenda 2030, state actors and non-state actors need to know the opportunities and difficulties that are pertinent to each sector of societal development within LDCs. Each sector has its own specific realities and corresponding analytical and theoretical underpinnings.

Agenda 2030 requires all actors to move out of their respective policy and operational silos; this is necessary if there is to be successful policy coordination, consultation and cooperation among those committed to reducing poverty in the LDCs. Organisational boundary spanning and boundary crossing ought to become the new norm for SDG implementation, whenever policy coherence will require new institutional learning and re-imagination of inter-agency coordination and consultation among UN Development Agencies, G20 member countries, development NGOs and Think Tanks.

Image: Raymond Saner

Raymond Saner is Professor Titular at Basel University and teaches at Sciences Po, Paris and Lüneburg University. He is director of Diplomacy Dialogue, Geneva, resource person for UN DESA HLPF in regard to SDG 2030 implementation and pioneer of Business Diplomacy.

Image: Lichia Yiu

Lichia Yiu is President of the Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development (CSEND) registered in Geneva since 1993, ECOSOC accredited with special consultative status. She is specialist in health diplomacy and social policy.

1 comment

  1. Braun - Antworten

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