Government-Civil Society Partnership to Promote the SDG 17 in Taiwan: Policy Review and Action Recommendations

Government-Civil Society Partnership to Promote the SDG 17 in Taiwan: Policy Review and Action Recommendations

Adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are enacted as a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity by 2030. SDGs provide a blueprint of development for all countries regardless of their levels of socio-economic developments. To achieve these global goals, it is essential to establish cooperation across all sectors and borders. Goal 17 of SDGs especially highlights the importance of the partnership relations in pursuing global developments, and addresses urgent needs of developing countries. As civil societies always play an important role in development programmes, this article is especially devoted to the partnership between government and civil society organizations (CSOs.)

Although having been excluded from the UN since 1971, Taiwan government has demonstrated tremendous interests in SDGs since its enactment in 2016. A report conducted by Oxfam in 2018 shows that Taiwanese corporates are the most committed to the SDGs among companies in the greater China region. On the central government level, the Executive Yuan published “Taiwan’s Voluntary National Review: The Implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals” in September 2017 and announced “Taiwan’s Sustainable Development Goals” in 2019. Some local governments also completed Voluntary Local Reviews, demonstrating their commitments to SDGs. Besides, SDGs have become popular topics among academics, civil society organizations, and all works of life.

As the SDGs have become the consensus for national development, it is the right time to contemplate how Taiwan could achieve 17 SDGs goals by building effective and inclusive partnership between government and civil society and reach out to international level. More specifically, we need to identify contents of Taiwan’s international development and cooperation policies. And more importantly, how the government would integrate all the resources and build up partnership with civil society in achieving the global goals of sustainable developments.

Obviously, it needs more elaboration on the partnership between the government and civil society organizations in the Taiwan’s Voluntary National Review. Scholars also observed a rupture in linking domestic and international development issues. In the Review, there are detailed elaboration on the implementation on the first 16 goals whereas merely outlines five areas of the International Cooperation Development Funds on the SDG 17. Lack of partnership building in Taiwan VNR inevitably leads to the conclusion that the government ignores the importance of the role of civil society organizations especially in the international level.

The similar mindset also reflected in the “Taiwan’s Sustainable Goals”, published in 2019. Although the paper details how different ministries would work together to promote the Goal 17, there is no comprehensive discussion on the roles of other stakeholders, especially civil society groups, in the promotion of SDGs overseas. It seems that Taiwan’s policy framework of the Goal 17 still lacks some essential elements of inclusive partnership to fully implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As a matter of fact, in comparison with other developed countries, Taiwan needs to strengthen its contribution to international development projects. According to “International Cooperation and Development Report 2018” published by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the official development assistance (ODA) of Taiwan in 2018 was about USD 302 million, registering an ODA/GNI (gross national income) ratio of 0,051%, which is far below the 0.7 percent target set by the United Nations. Comparing with the two neighbouring OECD countries, Japan and Korea, Taiwan’s ODA contribution is quite low too. In 2018, Japan’s ODA stood at USD 14.2 billion, representing 0.28 % of Japan’s GNI. In the same year, South Korea spent USD 2.4 billion on ODA, corresponding to 0.5% of GNI. Both countries are willing to contribute much higher national budgets to international development than Taiwan.

Moreover, practices in Japan and South Korea also show that donor countries generally would include civil society participation in their ODA programs. In 2017, 2% of Japan’s foreign aid was implemented via civil society organizations, which counted for USD 276 million, almost close to Taiwan’s total ODA amount. In the same year, South Korea channelled USD 44 million through CSOs, representing 3% of their total foreign aid. In addition, the two countries have explicitly stated the roles of other stakeholders in their respective international cooperation and development policies, especially the role of CSOs. In Japan’s White Paper on Development Cooperation 2017, the Japanese government praised Japanese NGOs as “indispensable partners in international development cooperation,” and therefore the government provides support for the capacity building of NGOs and engages in dialogues with NGOs on a regular basis. In South Korea, the government and civil society established the Policy Framework for Government-Civil Society Partnership in International Development Cooperation in January 2019 to clarify and deepen their partnership in international development endeavours .

On the contrary, Taiwanese government does not seem to have a comprehensive partnership strategy plan with CSOs in its international cooperation and development policies. Although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries would allocate some small budgets to assist Taiwanese NGOs to engage in international development projects, the amount is insignificant compare with the two neighbouring countries. As a consequence, the influence and the scope of Taiwanese civil society in promoting sustainable developments overseas are rather limited.

As SDGs have become the mainstream development ideology in Taiwan, it is the right time to rethink about how we can truly implement the spirit of “partnership” as depicted by the Gaol 17. The following viewpoints might be considered by policy-makers in Taiwan:

   1 Review the current international cooperation and development policies and seek to gradually increase the ratio of ODA/GNI: Comparing with the neighbouring countries with similar level of development, Taiwan’s ODA/GNI ratio is very low. As Goal 17 requires, developed countries need to implement fully their ODA commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve an ODA/GNI ratio of 0.7%. Taiwan should take serious consideration to increase its ODA/GNI ratio. The government could invite experts from civil society to review and assess the current policies and have a thorough inventory check on all the available resources to gradually raise its ODA/GNI ratio.

   2. Promote research and practice of international development in Taiwan Although there are plenty staff and strong research capability on international relations studies in Taiwan academic institutions, there are limited faculty devoted to the study of international cooperation and development. Consequently, practitioners have little support from academics and can only equip themselves through on-the-job trainings, or obtaining academic degrees overseas. Taiwanese government should allocate more resources in facilitating research of international development and encourage more practitioners to this field.

   3 . Raise public awareness through global citizenship education: The limited budget allocated for ODA can be blamed to the lack of public support, due to the tarnishing of “money diplomacy” for foreign aid. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that public perception towards foreign aid can be changed through promotion of global citizenship education. A research has shown that Korean public support towards ODA was also relatively low. However, Korean government prioritises spending on expanding public awareness of Korea’s effort in international development programmes, allocating about 1.7% of its bilateral ODA budget for development awareness at home in 2016, well above the DAC average. This explains Korean government’s more and more ambitious in promoting foreign aid programmes in recent years. Taiwanese government could learn from the Korean experiences by incorporating global citizenship education programmes to school curricula and raising public awareness and support on ODA issues.

As civil society organizations are playing more and more crucial roles in promoting social and political reforms, what actions can Taiwan’s CSOs take in order to advance Goal 17 and international development in Taiwan? As a senior civil society practitioner, I have the following reflections:

    1. Seek ceaselessly to improve professional skills and develop policy research ability for CSO practitioners: Lack of academic training in international development is worsened by the fact that Taiwan has been excluded from UN’s international development activities and discussions. Field workers have little resources to develop their own capacities to face ever changing environments in aid recipient countries. Civil society organizations in Taiwan have to build up an environment that allows practitioners from different organizations to exchange, to learn from one another, and to grow together. Bearing in mind that civil society in democratic countries always plays the role of monitoring the government. Indeed, comparing with other CSOs in Taiwan, such as human right groups, CSOs on international development have not been very strong in policy analysis and advocacy. We have to develop our own policy research capability in order to engage in meaningful dialogues with the government. In the long run, international development policies would gain more public support.

   2. Actively engage in dialogues with different development actors to promote cross-sector cooperation: Given the challenges faced by those who engage in international development programing in Taiwan, civil society organizations need to proactively seek cooperation opportunities from other actors, including academics, the private sectors, government agencies and other groups. Experiences from Japan and Korea show that if CSOs aim to be included in governments’ ODA policies, extensive dialogues have to be taken place first to build up mutual understanding and trust. Only when strong consensus with all the development actors reached, can favourable policies and environment be created for CSOs to participate in ODA programmes. By then, perhaps we can even set up an independent NGO to review development programme proposals and allocate governmental funds to other NGOs, such as in the case of Japan and Korea.

  3. Unswervingly uphold our core values: As seeking to become reliable partners of the government to promote sustainable developments and take part in the ODA policy-making process, we should not forget the core values that motivate us to participate in international development endeavors in the first place. We should never forget the upmost principle of the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes: “The humanitarian imperative comes first.” We have to keep in mind that our endeavours are not partisan orientated or politically motivated. When we promote the SDGs both domestically and internationally, and conduct public education programmes, we should reflect whether we also internalize all these sustainable goals and targets in good governance and management of our own organizations. As the public expects higher standards for CSOs, we must set our standards even higher to maintain public support in the future.

Senera Chang, Secretary General of TAIWAN AID

Conclusions and recommendations of Taiwan Perspective articles are solely those of their authors, and do not reflect the views of INPR.

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