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More Than the Sum of its Parts: Making Multi-stakeholder Initiatives Work

Now more than ever, solving the world’s most pressing problems requires the kind of systems-level change that can only be addressed by collective action. Consider the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) areas, such as food security, climate change, and universal education, whose challenges can hardly be addressed by a single government or donor alone.

In response to increasingly complex global problems, the global development community has launched an ever-growing number of collective action bodies. In this report, we focus on 17 organizations that fit our definition of “multi-stakeholder initiatives,” or MSIs: organizations…

  1. Focused on bringing about collective action solutions for global public benefit;
  2. Comprised of actors across the public and private sectors (both for-profit and philanthropic), and;
  3. Whose governance bodies and capabilities are wholly new, rather than simply reliant on those of the constituent actors.

When set up well, an MSI can achieve more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts results. Indeed, we saw several examples of this from our sample alone. In order to better understand when and how this occurs, we interviewed over 30 experts who were early funders or implementers of MSIs to systematically extract and synthesize best practices. In particular, we sought answers to the questions: When is an MSI the best-suited solution to address a global development problem, and what can an MSI do in its early days to be most effective?