Partnerships: Premises and Promises, Possibilities and Perils

Presentation by Liberato C. Bautista, President of CoNGO

at the 2023 ECOSOC Partnership Forum Side Event: WSIS Cooperation for Accelerating Progress on the SDGs

Organized by United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS)  and the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

31 January 2023

  • Partnerships must be at the core of what multilateral and multistakeholder mean. CoNGO’s long-term partnership with the WSIS Process and Forums is a model in this direction.
  • Stakeholders have varying access to power and resources, which they deploy in various partnerships. But there are as many perils as there are possibilities in these partnerships.
  • The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is critical in addressing the unequal relations among stakeholders. 
  • Partnerships at the UN flourish under conditions that make it possible for all stakeholders to access both physical space (premises) and substantive agenda (promises), not the least on all matters related to the successful implementation of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen:

  1. Thank you to friends at WSIS and ITU for having me again at another WSIS event during the ECOSOC Partnership Forum 2023. Thank you for allowing me to respond to two questions you posed.  The first question deals with how the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) views partnerships and why it is imperative for ECOSOC and the WSIS Process, as much as civil society, to collaborate in implementing and achieving the vision of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.
  2. My response to both is an organizational one—a celebration of the partnership between CoNGO and the WSIS Process through ITU, which I believe is a model of consultation, collaboration, and cooperation among varied actors who have been given access to physical premises as well as access to the substantive promises of the WSIS agenda. I will come back later to a nuancing of what I call the dynamic of premises and promises. The participation of CoNGO in the WSIS Forum last year (i.e., as a high-level track facilitator, as a speaker at a side event, opening ceremony and closing session, and in CoNGO’s event) and at the WSIS Forum 2023 this coming March (as high-level track facilitator again) are examples of this partnership.
  3. Both the multilateral and the multistakeholder approaches to doing work can be successful and meaningful if conducted under conditions of just and democratic governance. But also, one must consider the uneven development of economies and differentiated responsibilities on the common challenges we face in local, regional, and global spaces. Doing so is an exercise in knowing what can be realistically expected from a partner.
  4. Sustainable development is fundamentally about development justice. And development justice must also be about digital justice, which is the equitable deployment and access to the implements of digitalization, including ICTs. For CoNGO, these understandings underscore the reality that stakeholders have varying degrees of reach and access to the levers of power and resources and ICT implements, hence the concern, for example, for digital justice.
  5. There is broad agreement that the full and successful implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development relies heavily on the partnerships among governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, the business sector, and the widest breadth of civil society groupings, including non-governmental organizations.
  6. For NGOs to contribute meaningfully to the recovery of people and the planet from the pillage of pandemics and the devastations due to climate change,  NGO voice and agency must be afforded access to both multilateral premises and participation in visioning and shaping the substantive promises of the UN. Key to NGO partnership is having their voice heard, and their expertise tapped. This is what access to the promises of the UN means—access to realizing the promises of peace and prosperity, for people and the planet, as a shared vision and task.
  7. Let me now address the second question explicitly dealing with the close collaboration between CoNGO and WSIS, but also why I consider the ethical dimensions of knowledge and information society crucial.  The platforms the WSIS process has afforded NGOs are a model for such partnerships. They point to the direction of achieving digital justice, which is co-constitutive with environmental and development justice. WSIS and CoNGO’s long history of collaboration is substantive in both access to the premises of each other’s meetings and their substantive agendas. In 2003 in Geneva and 2005 in Tunis—at the twin conferences that launched the World Summit on the Information Society, CoNGO played a central role in promoting and facilitating cooperation among the many civil society groups that converged in these two conferences. We have supported WSIS and the WSIS Forums ever since, with the CoNGO President or First Vice President being a regular plenary speaker or facilitator.  The “ITU-CoNGO Agreement” signed in 2005 with then SG Utsumi set the ground for increasingly fruitful cooperation. The “Agreed Concept Note for Enhanced Involvement of CoNGO in the WSIS Process” was elaborated and strengthened in 2010 under SG Touré and DSG Zhao. 
  8. NGOs in Geneva and Tunis spoke of the various dimensions of ICT,  but even more so on the ethical dimensions(WSIS Action Line 10) concerning the common good, social justice, human dignity and human rights, sustainability and development, and so much more identifiable values. In the context of Agenda 2030, such ethical dimensions come in even greater focus because ICTs, to be a tool for the common good, must first redound to the enhancement of the dignity and protection of people’s human rights and the securing of sustainability for the planet.
  9. The digitization of knowledge and the digitalization of information—in all its applications, but especially in industry and commerce—are fraught with moral and ethical considerations. These moral and ethical considerations point to the digital divide and vex our efforts to safeguard human rights, including their intersections with more significant economic, political, social, and cultural realities. For its part, CoNGO will compose this year a CoNGO Board Advisory Working Group on Information Communications Technology, intended to supplement the CoNGO compendium of principles for NGO good practice (2021), this time focusing on best practices in the use of ICTs as experienced by NGOs and civil society groups.
  10. CoNGO’s collaboration with the World Academy of Art and Science, which partnered with the UN Trust Fund for Human Security to launch the Human Security for All campaign, is essential to mention here. This year, the campaign got loud-speaker access in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The titans of ICT industries agreed to have human security as its theme for the show. It is a step in the right direction for commerce and drives to be involved in implementing the SDGs.
  11. Last week, the ninth edition of the annual symposium on the role of religion and faith-based organizations in international affairs, which I chaired, also focused on human security. It was a symposium in collaboration with UNDP acting on behalf of the UN inter-agency task force on religion and development, including 27 UN entities collaborating. I said at the symposium that digital security must be a part of our understanding of human security. And that human security must be shared security for all. It must be shared security for all because it is about the flourishing of life, human well-being, and the planet’s sustainable development. 
  12. Peace and prosperity are undoubtedly critical components of our understanding of partnerships, and I submit that we have muted the justice components all too often. Yesterday’s session on Partnership Innovations raised the matter of common but differentiated responsibilities again. It is an assertion that a framework of inequality and uneven development still characterizes our partnerships. That’s the justice issue—recognizing who the duty bearers and the rights holders are so that, in the end, the SDGs are about the partnerships for people and the planet and not partnerships among inanimate institutions and organizations. CoNGO celebrates its partnership with ITU and WSIS for the great potential to continue advancing this perspective together. I trust the WSIS process, and forum will continue this orientation.