No State is an Island: The Importance of a Multisectoral Approach

Published June 24, 2013
By Krista Hendry
Failed States Index 2013
In the 2013 Failed States Index (FSI), we call attention to the linkages between the underlying causes of state fragility. Essentially, no state is an island, and pressures in one state, no matter how seemingly isolated, often lead to wider destabilization. The pressures that can underlay and lead to conflict are normally a combination of economic, social, environmental, and political factors that can reinforce each other, pushing countries or communities into greater instability if not addressed. Sometimes addressing or relieving one pressure, however, can actually intensify another, necessitating a much better understanding of how we can develop programs to support reducing some pressures while not exacerbating others. We also must better understand both the local context in which state fragility occurs as well as local abilities to manage potential conflict drivers if we are to work to increase those capacities rather than relying on external support indefinitely.

With our increasingly connected world, issues such as slavery, genocide, child labor, and poverty spill over borders in the form of people, weapons, and conflict. Only by working in collaboration, across sectors and issues, but also locally and internationally, do we stand a chance to drive the real change needed to reduce the major global challenges highlighted in the FSI. In particular, the need for multisectoral collaboration is being increasingly recognized. For too long, we have worked in silos – stove piped into various sectors and areas of expertise. In recognition of the interrelatedness of the issues that drive state fragility, we must take a holistic approach both to understanding the challenges and in developing programs to increase human security. Furthermore, beyond working across sectors at the international level, if we do not also figure out how to better collaborate and integrate local knowledge and ownership, we will constantly be chasing our tail, and human beings will suffer for it.

In the last ten years, there has been a dramatic increase in initiatives known as ‘MSIs’ (multistakeholder initiatives or multisectoral initiatives). Experience has repeatedly shown that it takes the combined efforts of companies, governments and civil society to actually implement programs on the ground to address complex challenges, develop good practices and programs, and make an impact where it matters most — with the people most impacted by the symptoms of state weakness.

With today’s financial constraints on aid and development projects, we have to get increasingly smarter about how we find and use resources. The private sector is a powerful actor but was previously an afterthought in development projects and rarely included in programs designed to address what were seen as “social issues.” They have often been an afterthought in initial state building. While their money was welcome, their expertise was underutilized. If actors in the private sector see a business case for committing to multistakeholder initiatives and supporting programs to address challenges, they can be an important contributor — not just of financial resources but of expertise and new perspectives.

One MSI that has made change at local levels and improved conditions is the Voluntary Principles on Security & Human Rights (VPs). The VPs is an initiative that began in 2000 by companies, their home governments, and non-governmental organizations, including The Fund for Peace. Initially the group drew up a set of broad principles for ensuring that companies have the policies and procedures in place to prevent human rights-related security incidences. It then created a forum to meet annually to discuss how the three pillars, as they became known, would collaborate to implement the principles to which they had agreed.

The first change that the VPs contributed to was one of mindset. The oil and mining companies that had come together to create the VPs had traditionally seen security as an issue of protecting the company from potential threats from the community. With the creation of the VPs, they were signaling a change to industry, which has since been adopted much more widely, that security was for the company and the community. They also previously saw a risk as something to prevent by deterring access. They now were assessing risks by seeking to understand the stresses on the communities and encourage programs that would seek to reduce those stresses as a means of reducing the security risk. Today, companies consider the social and economic situation of the communities in and around their operations as this may increase the potential risk of a security incident. Working more closely with community relations and others, security managers are seeking to understand where the risks lie and what can be done, beyond protection and prevention of access, to increase security by reducing tensions that may exist with or within the local communities. This mindset change has created a direct benefit to the communities, as livelihoods and human rights programs are developed in collaboration with local government, companies, NGOs, and the communities themselves.

The VPs are only one example of an MSI. MSIs exist to cover a range of issues —environmental, human rights, human security, economic development — the list goes on. They exist across a range of industries. There are some commonalities amongst them all but, first and foremost, they are all about compromise. Of the many challenges in collaboration, learning how to compromise while still ensuring the value of bringing different perspectives and expertise around the table is not easy. As the VPs demonstrate, however, that compromise has real value to our ability to learn how to make a difference in communities suffering from the pressures we highlight on the FSI.

The most basic requirement for collaboration is mutual respect and trust. This takes time to develop and often starts with the individuals and then needs to be institutionalized. A very basic and major challenge to building that trust is communication. The same term can mean very different things to different people. We also think in different time periods — some are focused on short-term symptom alleviation while others are focused on long-term solutions. The term “sustainability” is a great example. For a company, it most likely means that a challenge has been solved in a way that can continue without the additional need for charity. For an NGO, a program may be sustainable when they perceive an ongoing revenue stream to continue delivering services, whether that revenue stream is philanthropic or not. Taking the time to understand what we are saying when we use terms like sustainability is critical to the success of any collaboration. Otherwise, we all may think we are on the same path, but when we get to the destination, we may find ourselves in either different places or lost altogether.

For addressing the myriad challenges highlighted in the FSI that negatively impact human security, it will take many more initiatives at various levels — international, national and local. While most of the work does need to be done at the local level, where the people are suffering and the underlying conditions need to be resolved with local ownership of the solution, international MSIs do provide important platforms for pooling resources and expertise, creating better understanding of how different efforts can work together, and ensuring cross-sectoral learning and information sharing. Together we are smarter and can be more efficient, and to cure some of the suffering, that’s exactly what we need to be.