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Ensuring Social Protection for All

28. Juli 2022 - 0:24

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This GPW Round Up #2, Ensuring Social Protection for All, highlights the critical importance of universal social protection not only in recovering from the pandemic, but also its vital role to address pre-existing deep-seated inequalities between and within countries. It details gaps in social protection coverage and financing, especially in poor countries, and failures of the targeted, or means-tested approach, often promoted by IMF and World Bank.

The Round Up features comments and debates by Member States and CSOs, as well as research and critiques by scholars, the ILO and the (former) UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty. It links analyses to relevant recommendations of the UN Secretary-General’s report, Our Common Agenda, recommendations that are being debated by Member States as they lay out the UN agenda for the next three years.

The GPW team welcomes comments at

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Debt Crisis & Illicit Financial Flows

26. Juli 2022 - 14:15

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This GPW Round Up #1, entitled “The Debt Crisis and Illicit Financial Flows” looks at the UN Secretary-General’s proposals in his report Our Common Agenda to address this crisis, starting with a Biennial Summit between the G20, ECOSOC and IFIs, and asks “Does Our Common Agenda provide solutions?”

At a time when Africa has lost US$ 1 trillion over 50 years to IFFs, more than it has received in development assistance, the Round Up features Member State statements on the nature and scale of the crisis, and their demands for the UN to take charge of resolving it. Mali speaking on behalf of the Africa Group is particularly critical of the proposed Summit, pointing to its lack of inclusiveness and apparent limited mandate, saying transparency is not enough. Ethiopia echoes this, commenting that IFFs are being used to “wage wars and destabilize Africa”. Morocco on behalf of the Arab Group also raises doubts about the Summit and emphasizes that deliberations on the proposed international tax structure must be undertaken in consultation with Member States.

The CSO FfD group goes further, calling for shifting the centre of economic governance so that UN is at the centre, a position South Africa also embraced. This Round Up, like future ones, includes links to relevant chapters of Our Common Agenda as well as video links to the debate on Cluster 2, called “Accelerating the SDGs through sustainable financing and building trust”.

The GPW team welcomes comments at

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Building Back Better? Dubious Strategies to close the SDG Financing Gap

22. Juli 2022 - 0:06

By Isadora Jahanfar Tholin*

With less than eight years left to 2030, countries around the world are struggling to even come close to fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a huge part of why has to do with financing. More specifically, USD 3.3-4.5 trillion per year is needed to close the so-called financing gap. There are several reasons why this massive gap exists. First, states are not living up to their commitments of contributing 0.7% of their GNI towards Official Development Assistance (ODA) – a type of financing aimed at economic development and welfare of developing countries. Second, when the SDGs were being negotiated in 2015, Member States agreed that the private sector too would have to contribute to financing development. But here is where it gets tricky: private capital owners are not accountable to anyone if they choose to not invest, and as University of London professor Ulrich Volz, among others, highlighted at a meeting on financing for development during this year’s HLPF “hoping for private capital” to finance the gap, will not be enough, instead there needs to be structural change. While little can be done to combat the accountability problem of private investors, efforts have been made to stimulate private corporate actors to invest in sustainable development anyway through – the buzzword at this year’s ongoing HLPF: social impact bonds (SIBs).

What Are Social Impact Bonds?

If the name sounds confusing it’s probably because it is. In fact, they are not bonds in the traditional sense of government or corporate-issued instruments, but actually ‘pay for success’ contracts in which a socially conscious investor can choose to invest from a portfolio of projects to boost development in a wide range of areas, including education, social welfare, employment, health, environment and food security. The project relies on set project-based measures of success which an independent evaluator will monitor throughout the set timeframe. If and only if, the project has met the agreed goals set by the end of the project timeline, the investors receive their initial investment together with agreed upon returns from the government.

So what is the problem with SIBs? First of all, many of these projects are tackling issues that fall within the category of human rights, specifically economic and social rights. Robust sustainable development is contingent upon states being able to invest in their social infrastructure, not owing money to private investors looking for profit. SIBs are part of a trend that is contributing in doing the opposite. Second, there is a real issue in trying to quantify progress related to economic and social issues, such as welfare and education, because these are intangible and complex processes. Relying on a set of metrics to measure social development has already been widely criticized. Third, we need to remember that even the most compassionate private capitalists in the end are driven by profit, not goodwill. In free market logic, it is therefore only rational for investors to be investing in projects with a track record of reaching the pre-set goals. By implication, this means that stakes are high for the most vulnerable groups in society which might require an ‘unattractive’ project investment with little chances of reaching the set goals in a given time period.

Financializing Rights—A Contradiction in Terms?

As many critics have pointed out, these social bonds are essentially fictitious commodities and a way to depoliticize social welfare and financialize rights. Framed in this market logic, access to education and health care now become commodities and transfers power from sovereign states to private investors (mostly) based in the Global North. This financing instrument threatens countries’ right to choose which development strategies are best for them.

Finally, the looming paradox lies in that while various UN agencies, such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), encourage SIB implementation to finance the SDGs, the instrument itself reinforces the existing power relations that the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda supposedly seek to change, with their transformative dimensions and risk putting into further debt the many developing countries that already struggle with a debt crisis that has worsened since the pandemic.

It is unsustainable and dangerous to assume that private capital benevolently will step up and bridge the financing gap in debt ridden countries and SIBs as a financing instrument are a step in the wrong direction. What is needed is robust public capital, as well as reform and the re-focus of the multilateral development banks in order to achieve long-term robust sustainable development. Structural change is needed, and reliable, public capital is our best chance to fulfill the 2030 Agenda and for developing countries to achieve sustainable development.


* Isadora Jahanfar Tholin is a graduate student in International Affairs at The New School.

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