Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in conflict-affected contexts: An alternative development partnership between an international non-governmental organisation and a non-state armed group in Shan State, Myanmar

Event details

Myanmar Brownbag Seminar Series

Date & time

Friday 16 February 2018


PSC Reading Room 4.27, Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Sharon Bell, PhD Candidate, Massey University, New Zealand


Gerard McCarthy

As the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is advanced, ascertaining how conflict-affected contexts can impact on achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is vital. The United Nations (UN) considers conflict to be the leading risk to development progress. Conflict-affected contexts have high rates of poverty, limited access to crucial services such as healthcare, and make little progress in achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Shan State, Myanmar provides such a context, facing critical shortages in its health and education services. A global development agenda of state- and peace-building in conflict-affected contexts has meant that international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) have been criticised for undermining state legitimacy. Meanwhile, non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have been established in areas like Shan State, Myanmar, as alternative regimes which seek self-determination as well as wanting to provide for the social and economic wellbeing of their people. Little is known about how a development partnership between an INGO and a NSAG can contribute towards alternative and localised approaches to meeting the SDGs. This paper reports on the case study of such a partnership in Shan State, Myanmar. It draws on qualitative fieldwork conducted in a community on the Shan State-Thailand border in 2015 and 2016. A capabilities approach is used to examine the effectiveness of the partnership in enabling local capabilities to achieve development outcomes. It argues that the INGO-NSAG partnership functions as a legitimate ‘multi- stakeholder partnership’ that the UN calls for in SDG 17, to ‘strengthen the means of implementation’ of the SDGs. The paper also discusses the contradictions of the partnership, and the limitations caused by a reduction in international donor funding for alternative responses to development issues. These threaten to compromise the achievement of the SDGs in conflict-affected contexts.

Sharon Bell is a PhD Candidate in the Institute of Development Studies at Massey University, New Zealand. Her research interests include health system development in conflict-affected contexts, the Sustainable Development Goals, global aid architecture, new actors in development, and volunteerism, with a special interest in Myanmar. Her completed doctoral dissertation focused on the approaches used by an international non-governmental organisation (INGO) in partnership with a non-state armed group in a health worker training programme on the Myanmar-Thailand border. She has been involved in the aid and development sector for 25 years, having previously worked for a large INGO, and now as a board member and development consultant for an INGO working in Myanmar.

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