With 2020 likely to prove a pivotal year for the UK Government’s approach to international development, RESULTS’ Senior Policy Advocacy Officer Callum Northcote looks ahead at the upcoming opportunities and argues that for civil society to achieve the impact we all want to achieve, we have to work together.

2020 is going to be an important year. We tend to say that every year, but this year does feel slightly different. We are a third of the way towards 2030 and the proposed achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This should draw our focus to turning commitments into actions. Fortunately, there are a number of key opportunities to galvanise progress. Notably, the UK is hosting COP26 (the UN climate conference) and also the replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Alongside this, the UK is a central partner in the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) summit, which is to be held in Japan. Together, these present a huge opportunity for joined-up, aligned and impactful change.

What does that change include? Well, a lot of things, but as a top line, we’re talking about increased financial resources supporting the delivery of better policy which is backed up by political will. To make the most of this important year, advocacy towards decision-makers must be similarly joined-up and aligned. Only this way can we advance on the real objective of our work to drive progress toward eradicating global poverty.

Some of you reading this may be thinking ‘Yes but the World Health Assembly is also important for my issue’, or ‘But he hasn’t mentioned the Africa Investment Summit’. Those are of course important too, as are many more, but if we think of these events in isolation, without an overarching strategic view we are at risk of failing to make the most of these opportunities to drive the progress we want to see. This will never be achieved through silos. It needs sector-wide approaches which understand the wider implications of actions, as demonstrated by RESULTS’ ‘Brick by Brick’ report.

Take the three events I have outlined above: Gavi, COP and N4G. Approaching all three of these with the same vigour, recognising their immense importance, will make a significant difference. Ensuring policies are in place to mitigate and adapt to climate change whilst ensuring that health systems are strong enough to increase vaccine delivery and other health interventions, and that people have access to a sufficient quantity of quality food, that is the type of transformation needed. But not only is there an opportunity for transformation, there’s a real risk in stagnating or declining trends with inaction. For example, what use is it vaccinating malnourished children? Why prioritise nutritious and climate resilient crops if children will die from vaccine-preventable diseases? And what is the point in promoting climate resilience if you are not building a health system that will enable people to thrive rather than barely survive? Civil Society can encourage a joined-up policy approach by ensuring it approaches 2020 in a joined-up manner.

Of course we need specific issue expertise, but we also need pragmatism and realism. We need to combine our efforts and make the most of these opportunities for the overall goal of poverty reduction and sustainable growth, rather than focusing on single mechanisms in isolation. Resources are limited and wants are unlimited. But we can amplify the impact of limited resources by working together to achieve outcomes that work for everybody and bring the results we all want to see. Let’s share plans, collaborate on events which go beyond one issue, and ensure we are checking the activities we are working and policies we are advocating on with those with different focuses. This year, the UK will be embarking on a new place in the world and evaluating its outward projection. Conversations about how, and even if, DFID continues to spend aid will come up a lot. We already have competitors – other interest groups who want to see us all fail. Strong and unified CSOs are an important bulwark against this.

So, let’s relish the challenge 2020 presents us. Let’s combine our efforts and make sure that we work closely across issues to present to the Government a set of policy prescriptions that reflect our development goals as a whole. We are on the brink of huge success if we get this right, but we risk making things worse if we get this wrong. By too strong a push on one silo rather than combined efforts we could encourage a deprioritisation of vaccines or nutrition or climate. If we do that, then we have equally deprioritised all of them. I know what I would rather see.