India’s development partnerships could be a potential game changer if sustainability is incorporated into the agenda
Besides being a developing country itself, India has pushed its experiences towards promoting social and economic development of the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa.In the backdrop of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, financing for climate change and more broadly sustainable development became one of the most pressing issues at a global scale. It can also be considered as a catalyst for development cooperation. In fact, it has been widely agreed that since the MDGs were adopted by a majority of donors as an organising framework for aid delivery, it facilitated the streamlining of official development assistance (ODA). Furthermore, “international cooperation and ODA, both together, can act as a strong countercyclical flow, especially in the ongoing pandemic phase”. In fact, ODA has “the potential to be a transformative force to support and guide a sustainable recovery in developing countries, upholding good practices around prevention, innovation, reliability and predictability, and supporting country ownerships and systems”. Indeed, one of the most persuasive drivers of ODA is not growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but political will, public support, and mobilisation, the scale and nature of humanitarian and development needs, solidarity, and mutual interest in global development progress. The MDGs did not find any specific mention as one of the primary goals to be met by the Indian development cooperation instrument during the 2000s. Although its cooperation initiatives worked on sectors closely connected to the sustainability narrative, an explicit mention of it was missing. With the failure of the MDGs, the sustainability narrative became more strenuous in its approach, thereby, giving shape to the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. Presently, India’s Development Partnership Administration (DPA) offers a special position to regional connectivity (SDG 8, SDG 9, SDG 11) in its bilateral engagements in the immediate neighbourhood. Notably, this must be viewed from the lens of gaining strategic visibility and positioning India formidably in the eyes of the ‘recipient’ nations and other donors. Moreover, in the context of the current pandemic, the indispensability of giving easy access to global public goods (GPGs), say health facilities, has been exacerbated.
Presently, India’s Development Partnership Administration (DPA) offers a special position to regional connectivity (SDG 8, SDG 9, SDG 11) in its bilateral engagements in the immediate neighbourhood.Indian development partnerships, apart from the bilateral initiatives, are also present in a number of multilateral forums. Although multilateralism experienced a freefall following the pandemic, fostering collaboration and confidence-building, particularly for India, becomes pivotal in the run up to Agenda 2030. As part of various multilateral forums under the wider SSC umbrella, it is setting alternative modes and avenues of mobilising finance as opposed to the OECD-DAC structure. This also reflects its inherent desire for global recognition. Its activities, particularly post-2015, have been increasingly directed towards forging partnerships (SDG 17) with other developing countries; for instance, the IBSA (India Brazil South Africa) initiative or the India-UN Development Partnership Fund. However, it is important to note that although the Indian DPA does not have a separate vertical on the SDGs, most of these initiatives aim to “support Southern-owned and led, demand-driven and transformational sustainable development projects across the developing world”. This stands in stark contrast to the institutional structure and message sent out by the Indian DPA on the SDGs, which does not find any concrete mention anywhere. India has further intensified its engagement with the developing nations of Asia and Africa through the International Solar Alliance (ISA) along with France in 2015 and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) in 2019. This, yet again, reflects its sustainability ambitions focused towards SDG target 7 and SDG target 13. Providing low-cost technology solutions and cheap human labour, India has tactfully utilised this end for gaining advantage in the global aid canvas. It is essential to note the New Development Bank initiated by the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) is also directed towards “mobilising resources to support infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies”. Yet again, sustainable development is explicitly mentioned as a target in multilateral development cooperation initiatives where India is a major partner.
Providing low-cost technology solutions and cheap human labour, India has tactfully utilised this end for gaining advantage in the global aid canvas.Till date, the Indian DPA narrative has attempted to fill the void left unattended by the traditional donors. The COVID-19 crisis unravelled socio-economic and financial instabilities as borders were shut and lockdowns were imposed. However, 2020 could be an opportunity to be utilised by the Indian DPA policymakers to think of substantive reforms in its institutional structure, in the run up to Agenda 2030. While looking at the sustainability bent of New Delhi’s interventions, although India has historically incorporated sustainable development in its partnerships, these have been more spontaneous than a policy-driven exercise. Furthermore, while the SDGs entered the picture only in 2015, New Delhi’s development aspirations over the years have reflected the sustainability agenda even prior to 2015. Being the largest democracy and an emerging economy, India can potentially drive the SDG narrative by “providing solutions and weaving roadmaps for others”. If New Delhi can successfully reinvent its DPA priorities marrying it with the SDG Agenda, then it is quite possible to envision an “Indian model” of sustainability in the coming decade of action.
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Dr Swati Prabhu is Associate Fellow with theCentre for New Economic Diplomacy (CNED). Her research explores the interlinkages between Indias development partnerships and the Sustainable ...Read More +