3rd UNECE International Forum on People-first PPPs for the Sustainable Development Goals

Scaling up: Meeting the challenges of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through people-first Public-Private Partnerships


UN SDG number 17 has given a high priority to different forms of partnerships – public, public-private and public-civil society - as a means of achieving the UN 2030 Development Agenda. Achieving the goals, such as access to safe water and sanitation for all, universal health care and access to renewable energy etc., comes with a huge price tag. Not surprisingly therefore, that special attention has been given to Public–Private Partnerships (PPPs) because of their ability to generate associated financial resources and optimise the delivery of essential public services.

PPPs, however, have had generally more modest objectives than those enunciated in the UN SDGs. For instance, the PFI subset of PPP practised in the UK tended to be used as a financial accounting exercise to remove assets ‘off the balance sheet’ of governments; today PPP is used quite widely to provide taxpayers ‘value for money’ over traditional public procurement.

In order to directly support the SDGs, the UNECE has called for a new generation of PPPs whose overall goal is sustainable development and which put people at its core. It has called these ‘People-first’ PPPs. Their focus should be on improving the quality of life of people and their communities, especially the socially and economically vulnerable as well as undertaking sustainable projects that do not harm the environment, using resources in ways which do not put at jeopardy the future of public budgets and the planet. They should moreover meet a few of the outcomes which have been identified in people-first PPPs including improving access and equity, boosting resilience and sustainability, engaging with all stakeholders etc.

People-first PPPs should be thus the way forward. However, doing just a few, here and there, often with high transaction costs, is not sufficient: the financial gap that needs to be filled in order to build infrastructure and provide essential public services such as health, education, transport, power, water and urban services is trillions not billions. Therefore, it is imperative that people-first PPPs should increase rather quickly and to an industrial scale and spread if the UN SDGs are to be achieved.



The UNECE has recognised the need for scaling up the impact from people-first PPPs and has taken a number of steps:

  • Its focus on developing voluntary international standards for PPP is designed to lower transaction costs and thus create multiple projects, avoiding the ‘reinventing of the wheel’ each time a project is done;
  • One of its desired outcomes for people-first PPPs – replicability – is identified so that projects can be more easily developed: included in the costs absorbed by the partners to the project is a training component for public officials which can help facilitate the development of similar projects elsewhere; and
  • The PPP capacity building programme for Belt and Road participating countries can help leverage the vast funding earmarked for infrastructure investment to promote people-first PPPs consistent with the UN SDGs.

But while the mountain is in clear sight, the hard climb has still to be properly begun. Work on standards needs itself to be scaled up; the serious training of government officials in people-first PPPs needs to be begun and work on developing actual projects consistent with the UN SDGs requires considerable efforts to be successful.


The purpose of the Forum is to gradually scale up the impact of the UNECE PPP programme to meet the 2030 Agenda by advancing the work on a number of mandated outputs, namely:

  • To discuss some fundamental principles, such as open, fair and transparent procurement rules, that should underpin infrastructure projects;
  • To decide on effective ways to implement existing standards, including one on a Zero Tolerance approach to corruption in PPP procurement and the Guiding Principles on People-first PPPs;
  • To work out a strategy on how the private sector in the PPP industry and elsewhere might take a lead in the advancement of women empowerment issues in the SDGs; and
  • To scale up the PPP capacity building work undertaken by the International PPP Centre of Excellence (ICoE), with the involvement of other UN agencies, the World Bank and the IFIs.


The event is an opportunity to bring PPP experts together in an informal setting and takes place under the auspices of the Bureau of the UNECE Working Party on PPPs. The sessions are organised in partnership with lead agencies, including the Specialist Centres of Excellence, related to PPP work inside the UN.

Further information on the project teams, the Standards and the affiliated centres of excellence is found at the UNECE International PPP Centre of Excellence's website.


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