Partnering for development

At UNU-WIDER, all our work is implemented through partnerships, collaboration, and co-creation. Through those connections, we make a meaningful contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the key development challenges of our time. We act as a facilitator for debate and engagement between our partnering researchers, institutions, and policymakers. These collaborations are fundamental to how we manage the complexity of development issues in the Global South. By bringing different institutions and people together, we strengthen our mutual understanding of the themes in our work programme and turn knowledge into action.

In the past year, the following questions were central to our work: How can we build more effective partnerships between research and policymaking institutions? How can we make sure that sound research informs policy decisions? How can we help ensure that data is being used optimally to make these decisions? So, what did we learn?

SDG 17: Partnerships for the goals bridging the divide between ideas and action

SDG 17 has been our anchor in answering these questions because it identifies partnerships as being key to achieving all the other SDGs. We can use strategic partnerships to bridge the divide between the policymaking and the research environment. Bridging this divide is no small task. One way that we contribute is by bringing down the barriers between policymakers and researchers in the early stages of our projects.

A good example of this strategy to ensure impactful knowledge flows is our tax work with the sub-Saharan African revenue authorities. Strengthening these authorities’ capacity to generate domestic revenue with the co-creation of new tools, methodologies, trainings, and databases are ways that we contribute to their hard work of policy formulation and implementation. In turn, these collaborations help us gain a deeper understanding of domestic revenue mobilization challenges in the region, while also contributing to a larger body of research that can be used by other governments and institutions across the region and beyond faced with the similar challenges.

Connecting people and institutions by building trust

Trust is crucial to the success of these partnerships, and building trust between people and institutions takes time, resources, and an honest and active engagement with clear communication and goalsetting. Often such collaborations start from the early stages of a project and can scale up to much larger collaborations, as we have done with the Inclusive Growth in Mozambique (IGM) and Southern Africa – Towards Inclusive Economic Development (SA-TIED) programmes. Now, several years into their evolution, these programmes continue to contribute to the policy environments in Mozambique and South Africa. These partnerships, built around the nexus of cutting-edge research, policy engagement, and capacity development, demonstrate their value by delivering high-impact outcomes. We are all thankful to the donors who give these complex programmes the time needed to achieve ambitious goals.

Being a thought partner

UNU-WIDER's role has never been to prescribe to governments what policies to implement. Rather, our role is to provide a set of options, based on sound research, and show what potential consequences those policies will bring, and the tools to analyse these alternatives. As a ‘thought partner’ and sounding board, we bring important insights while contributing to policy decisions fully owned by local governments. This is how UNU-WIDER can provide value to the UN system as one of its premier think tanks. Our experts are called to make important contributions to UN processes for new and innovative ideas on how to tackle the development hurdles we are faced with.

Moving forward

UNU-WIDER’s current work programme ends in 2023, so we’re now in the process of defining our new framework for 2024–2027. This year brings us an opportunity to reflect on the learning and findings from the current work programme, together with our stakeholders, and think about how we can take these partnerships to the next level while further extending our connections around the themes of our future work.

UNU-WIDER has a great potential to increase its work on co-creation of research and policy analysis between researchers and policy actors in various policy settings, thus bridging the gap between high-quality research and policymaking and providing solutions to our pressing development challenges. To do that, we’ll need a stronger presence in, and closer collaboration with, actors on the ground in the Global South. This will lead to new possibilities and shape the way we operate, and we will need to think about how to maintain our institutional agility in these new contexts. Based on the resilience demonstrated and the accomplishments we've achieved during the past year, we are confident that we are up for that challenge.


This article was originally featured in the UNU-WIDER Annual Report 2022. Read the full report here.

Dominik Etienne is Head of UNU-WIDER's Partnerships & Programme Unit.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute or the United Nations University, nor the programme/project donors.