The power of collaboration may be one silver lining of the Covid-19 crisis

From the film, “Nations United: Urgent Solutions for Urgent Times”, launched during the UN General Assembly. Photo: Ally Winter-Taylor (Project Everyone)

This week saw the conclusion of the General Debate of the 75th General Assembly of the United Nations and numerous high-level meetings and dialogues.

What I heard again and again was the refrain that we must ‘build back better’ or ‘build forward better’. This latter message, which was mentioned several times during the High-Level Meeting on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, emphasizes the need to use this current crisis to advance a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future. Did we need a pandemic and its dramatic consequences to realise this?

The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the inequalities of our world, which prevailed prior to Covid-19. While many stress that the virus “has no borders”, the data continue to show that it has affected people in very uneven ways. These disparities and challenges were the drivers of what became the historic adoption of the SDGs in 2015. When we rally around ‘building forward better’, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

The SDGs encompass all aspects of the global challenges we are facing and, above all, clearly spell out the extent to which they are interconnected. Covid-19 has been a magnifying glass in that regard too: before the pandemic, how often did we talk about health, job loss, economic downturn and failing environmental ecosystems as several sides of the same coin? Today, because of the obvious correlations between these sectors, we are finally discussing and addressing these issues as one. This systemic way of approaching global challenges is one of the fundamental paradigm shifts of the SDGs and one of the keys to ‘building forward better”.

In the midst of this unprecedented global crisis, my ‘reason for hope’ is manifested in many of the measures and policies that are being put into place swiftly and decisively to address the many different facets of the crisis. Some of these interventions were shared by Jordan, Portugal and South Africa during a high-level dialogue hosted by us and the ILO in June 2020.

There is no doubt that it is challenging to find solutions that cut across sectors. Most of our systems and governance structures were never built—let alone incentivised— to work together. Yet, Covid-19 is emphasising the extent to which this is the most relevant, cost-effective and sustainable ways of operating.

In Geneva, we are privileged to be surrounded with expertise from many different sectors, such as health, labour, nature-based solutions and finance. The city also hosts a wealth of actors that represent all the different stakeholders that can drive change and long-lasting impact when they join forces: governments, the UN and other international organisations, NGOs, academia, businesses and financial institutions.

The ingredients are here for cross-fertilisation of expertise and co-creation of sustainable solutions. While this was happening prior to the pandemic, now is the time to supercharge this collaborative energy. Together with our partners, the SDG Lab is more committed than ever to using its expertise to support such endeavours.

Let’s ‘build forward better’—by investing in the power of collaboration so that Covid-19 is remembered as the time when governments and other stakeholders joined up their expertise and knowledge to co-create measures and policies that embraced the interconnected nature of our global challenges. This is multilateralism and this is my ‘reason for hope’.

Nadia Isler is the director of the SDG Lab serving as the leader of the team. She has a long career in international development with several years of field experience in bilateral cooperation and extensive experience in multilateral affairs within and outside of the UN system.


This article is part of our free newsletter, the "Daily Brief", in which Nadia Isler was our guest editor. Subscribe now!