Arif Neky on the SDG Partnership Platform, Kenya

WINGS interviewed Arif Neky, the Senior Advisor for UN Strategic Partnerships and Coordinator of the SDG Partnership Platform (SDGPP) in Kenya to learn more about the role of philanthropy networks to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

The Kenyan Government at the UN General Assembly in September 2017 in New York described the launch of the SDG Partnership Platform in partnership with the UN in Kenya as an effort to go beyond “much talk about SDG partnerships” to a concrete ecosystem on the ground to make this happen in Kenya. It provides a vector for forging multistakeholder collaborations to unlock private, philanthropic and intellectual capital for the SDGs including the Big-4 Agenda priorities announced by the President of Kenya. It is now an official flagship under the $1.9 billion joint UN Development Assistance Framework co-chaired between the UN system and the Government for 2018-2022. It has been identified as one of three potential best practice Platforms globally for SDG Financing by the DCO office at UN HQ.


1) Can you tell us more about the background of the SDGPP in Kenya and how it explored innovative financing such as blended financing instruments towards SDG implementation?

The SDGPP commenced  as a pilot initiative called the “SDG Philanthropy Platform” in November 2014, launched by Conrad N. Foundation, Ford Foundation and MasterCard Foundation with UNDP, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Foundation Centre  in Kenya , which was the first country to host this initiative followed by a number of other countries: Indonesia, Colombia, Zambia, Ghana, India, Brazil, US, and China. During this time, the UNFPA in Kenya also forged an innovative six-County public-private partnership to stem maternal and child mortality in the most severely affected parts of the country contributing about half of the deaths with 6 private partners.  

In September  2017, these initiatives were merged into one broader partnership: the SDG Partnership Platform, with the core objective to convene, connect and catalyze concrete partnerships that unlock private, philanthropic and intellectual capital for the Government’s priority SDG agenda. This public-private partnership is intended to contribute to the Kenyan government efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage (SGD3) for all, as part of the “Big Four” agenda also including Food and Nutrition Security; Manufacturing and Skills Training, and Affordable Housing. This broadening of the Platform was necessary because philanthropy is often very comfortable engaging by itself but not always so used to collaborate with the private sector, Government civil society, and other stakeholders. The SDG Partnership Platform is about creating a much broader, multi-stakeholder platform to productively engage all key partners. We want to bring philanthropy as an important stakeholder into the mainstream of development decision making and implementation in the country.

The SDGPP is also leading the coordination of the financing sector with various partners and financing networks (including impact investors, venture philanthropists, private equity, etc.) to co-create Kenya’s first National Advisory Board for Impact (NAB) with the Global Steering Group (GSG) with the blessing of the Ministry of Finance. We have also co-created the first Africa Venture Philanthropy Alliance with global and local partners as a sister group to the Asian and European Venture Philanthropy Networks with full-time staff and a secretariat in place. A report on Innovative Financing for Health as well as a design effort for Kenya’s first Social Impact Bond for Health are underway.

2) What is the added-value of philanthropic capital in blended financing mechanisms for development?

Philanthropic capital is a catalytic resource for research, innovation, testing, and potential risk mitigation to allow, in turn, other modalities of private capital and Government resources to scale up innovative approaches appropriate to the Kenyan context.

This is very important because we move from just pure charitable short term giving to more strategic philanthropy. We now need to move to the third level: engaging philanthropic capital in a blend with private capital and public capital. We can consequently build a pipeline of carefully curated investment projects where philanthropy is a catalytic fund that leverages much larger volumes of private capital and public capital to create the SDG impacts intended whilst opening up economic opportunities for private capital in Kenya and beyond.

This is an opportunity for us to collectively catalyze investments, impacts and capital flows that could be around for decades from now. It goes beyond short term funding cycles and short-term political cycles.

Since the creation of the Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF) with the UN MTPF Office in New York, the SDGPP has mobilized about $5.5 million US dollars in  funding and in-kind support from the public and private sectors, which has been either pooled into the MPTF mechanism or channeled directly through UN agencies or received as in-kind support. Key private sector partners such as Philips and AstraZeneca, bilaterals such as the Netherlands and the US, and multilaterals such as the World Bank have joined philanthropic partners such as the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Ford Foundation in this effort. These contributions to run the Platform and provide essential TA support for curating investments have so far led to a pipeline of about $150m in direct investment project opportunities being supported.        

3) How can other philanthropy networks play a role in bridging philanthropy capital and mainstream development funding?

Philanthropy networks can play a very important role in:

  • Building awareness and motivation for broader and longer-term collaborations.
  • Researching, identifying and curating a pipeline of investment opportunities for philanthropic participation that leads to social and environmental impact and yet allows for economic returns that are reasonable in each context i.e. play the “honest broker” role as we do at the SDG Partnership Platform in Kenya.
  • Strengthen capacity across partners including local Government on how to grow and manage public-private partnerships.
  • Ensure trust, credibility, and accountability of partners including philanthropic players in these broader collaborations – create benchmarks for standards and requisite credibility.

4) What are the 3 most important lessons learned from your experience coordinating the SDG Partnership Platform in Kenya? What are the challenges for building lasting partnerships?

The first lesson is to build trust and add value for collaborations, making sure people feel it is a worthwhile investment that they should support, and by doing so they not only create wealth but also create SDG impacts. It is also important to learn how to balance diverse stakeholder expectations and incentives of partners keeping in mind your core mission. The third lesson is how to deliver and communicate results, being transparent, accountable and ensuring ensure data collection and management, which includes monitoring and impact evaluation.

Establishing lasting partnerships takes time and resources. It is crucial to manage the balance between making quick progress and getting results while simultaneously ensuring the needs of all. Another challenge is to assume a whole-country approach to ensure the most remote parts of the country receive attention and support from the government and development partners as well as private and philanthropic investors. Capacity is also one of the main difficulties because often local governments may not have the skilled staff to maintain investment partnerships, especially with the private sector.

5) How important was to build a cohesive narrative to engage the partners and funders for the Fund and the Platform?

Building a cohesive narrative is a crucial part of the process. One way to ensure support for the government is to align the narrative to support the Government agenda. In the case of SDGPP, it is to fully support the Government of Kenya’s “Big Four” agenda. This is extremely important because the government does not need parallel systems and fragmented approaches.

By doing so, it is possible to forge partnerships based on the common good and help the Government to maintain the lead. And having Government endorsement and buy-in at both national and sub-national (i.e. 47 Counties in Kenya) levels is also critical.

It is therefore also important that philanthropy is part of a much broader and longer-term effort across multiple stakeholders to create long term investments and impacts that are systems based rather than mere pilots or what I call “short puffs of excellence” which die off after their funding runs out.

6) What are the upcoming plans from the SDGPP in Kenya?

We have to keep in mind that 2022 is not so far away, it is only four years away. So really, time is of the essence, and there’s a sense of urgency for action.

Concrete investment pipelines, unlocked from private and public capital are critical so that these collaborations and capital can catalyze many longer-term investments that will sustain themselves because they are linked to sustainable economic development initiatives.

The Platform connects, convenes and catalyzes supports to help identify the investment projects, builds local ownership and focuses on some of the most vulnerable areas within the country to result in building strong partnerships to scale up innovations to other parts of the country.

The plan in 2019 is to open up additional windows in the Platform to support thematic SDG clusters in support of Kenya’s “Big Four” agenda from UHC to Food & Nutrition Security currently and thereafter to Manufacturing & Skills Training as well as Affordable Housing.

The objective is to make this a multisectoral Platform that includes philanthropic and private sector participation, mobilizing funding and technical in-kind support for the Platform’s operations.

Let’s break the silos to make partnerships happen in a sustainable manner to ensure we leave no-one behind!





Circle Picture



Arif Neky

Senior Advisor for UN Strategic Partnerships and Coordinator of the SDG Partnership Platform (SDGPP) in Kenya.

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