Reducing inequality — why working together is no longer just an option

The time limit to reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda is now just eight years away. It is vital to pursue a new model of partnerships, based on coordinated responses, if we are to reach our international commitments and reduce inequality for all by building sustainable, inclusive and resilient societies.

In recent decades, globalisation and liberalisation have played a paradoxical role. While they have reduced global income inequalities by reducing inequality between countries, they have also reinforced those within countries, creating winners and losers. To tackle this and other global challenges, in 2015, the international community agreed and committed to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and of its seventeen Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG) – notably SDG 10 on the reduction of inequalities. Unfortunately, insufficient progress has been made to reduce inequality since then, and 2030 appears to be an increasingly close deadline (UNSG’s report “Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals”).

Further hindering global efforts to achieve the SDGs, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated existent inequalities across the board. As we work to move towards sustainable and inclusive development trajectories, reducing inequality is crucial to achieve all SDGs and policies to address inequality are fundamental to achieve the green and digital transitions around the world.

The health crisis, and the effects it has generated, reminds us and forces us to take control of our own trajectory by integrating environmental and social issues into our production and consumption patterns to build responsible, just and resilient societies. The pandemic further demonstrates that global challenges require countries to work in partnerships to find global solutions to interconnected issues.  With the UN SecGen’s call for a Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection and the G20 underlining the importance of comprehensive social protection systems to help low-income countries both to establish and maintain social protection floors and to improve resilience, Covid-19 is being turned into an opportunity to enhance a new era of working better together through enhanced partnerships. These initiatives should be applauded and extended to firmly establish a new model of cooperation where working in silos would no longer be an option.

Working toward this new paradigm is not an easy task. Addressing global challenges, as inequality reduction clearly is, requires the engagement of all - partner governments, the private sector, development financial institutions, academia and civil society organizations - to build wider and stronger partnerships. The European Union (EU) is determined to engage, and to do so as a team.

In terms of policy first, the EU continues to promote the model we stand for, based on sustainability, focus on people and values, to tackle these global challenges and create shared prosperity. The EU will continue to play an assertive role as a reliable partner to in the pursuit of universal agendas such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

In the framework of our assistance, Team Europe Initiatives (TEI) are bringing together through common actions the EU and members States that have reaffirmed their commitment to collectively finance and implement key projects, thus ensuring scale and lasting impact. This new approach offers the possibility of reinforcing European synergies by building a strategic culture of cooperation centered on decisive measures that will bring about change. Several TEIs exist already in various regions and countries, with some targeting the reduction of inequality in partner countries, bringing together the EU budget 2021-2027 and Member States bilateral assistance, including their Agencies and European Financial Institutions.

In this Team Europe context, Public Development Banks already committed to better working together at the 2021 Finance in Common Summit, where they issued a joint declaration stating their willingness to contribute to the recovery and to align with sustainable finance principles. AECID, AFD, CDP and KFW, among the leading European financial institutions, also signed a joint declaration on a European Strategic Cooperation Framework, highlighting Team Europe and the need for coordinated action at the multilateral level.

Finally, the launch of the EU-AFD Inequalities Research Facility in 2017 - and its extension in 2020 - in collaboration with governments of partner states and with local research centers, has developed research programs to feed evidence-based public policy. More than 22 projects have been carried out and their results presented in forums and conferences to share knowledge information, enable synergies, and mainstream the reduction of inequality as a guiding principle for our action. In addition, an array of tools have also been developed and expanded together with partner countries to enable them to design and implement effective inequality-reducing policies.

Now that the knowledge and the tools to integrate socioeconomic inequality in development cooperation are available, we, members of the Facility’s strategic committee – bilateral donors, international institutions, members of civil society - commit to move from words to action and mainstream the reduction of inequality in our strategies and operations. We aim to develop monitoring and evaluation frameworks to track our efforts to address inequalities through our interventions, and seek to strengthen the synergies between inequality reduction and the other global challenges that need to be collectively addressed.

It is only by working together, by rethinking and redesigning the way we interact at every level - local, national and institutional - that inequality can really be reduced. Only a coordinated approach will catalyze our efforts to tackle these challenges effectively and achieve the 2030 Agenda.


  • Koen Doens - INTPA 
  • Rémy Rioux -  AFD
  • Antón Leis – AECID
  • Kunal Sen -  UNU-WIDER
  • Jean Van Wetter – Enabel
  • Jürgen Zattler – BMZ


This article is republished with permissions. The original article was published by Global Policy here

Koen Doens is the Director General of International Partnerships at the European Commission.
Remy Rioux is the former Paris Agreement Negotiator and Director General of France’s Public Development Bank (AFD).
Antón Leis is the Director of the Spanish Development Agency, AECID and was previously Counsellor to the Secretary General of the OECD.
Kunal Sen is the Director of UNU WIDER, The United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, and a Professor of development economics at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.
Jean Van Wetter is the Managing Director of Enabel, the Belgian Development Agency.
Jürgen Zattler is the Director General of the German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ).

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.