Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2008

Multi-Stakeholder Cooperation in Global Governance

Mikael Wigell

November 2008

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


Over the past few decades, new forms of international cooperation have emerged that go beyond traditional intergovernmental multilateralism. In this new mode of global governance, “global public-private partnerships”, “multi-sectoral networks”, “multi-stakeholder arrangements”, “plurilateral coalitions”, and “global public policy networks” bring multiple stakeholders – public, private and not-for-profit – together in common forums to engage in consensus-oriented problem-solving. Today, such multi-stakeholder cooperation can be identified in a variety of issue-areas across global, regional and local levels, involving a broad set of actors ranging from governments and international organizations to NGOs and transnational corporations. As such, these are initiatives that try to respond to the new challenges of governance in the age of globalization.

This paper seeks to provide a brief overview of such multi-stakeholder initiatives. It attempts to address a number of important questions. Why have multi-stakeholder cooperation emerged at the global level? What are the characteristics and functions of multi-stakeholder initiatives? What are the elements that make multi-stakeholder initiatives a potentially useful tool in global governance? What factors contribute to the success of multi-stakeholder initiatives in enhancing the effectiveness and effi ciency of global governance?

The paper is organized so that the second section provides a discussion of the failed attempt to forge a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). An important factor contributing to the breakdown of the MAI negotiations is found to have been the absence of a multistakeholder approach. The analysis sheds light on how globalization and other international structural changes have created an increasing demand for new forms of cooperative structures that go beyond traditional inter-state cooperation. The political and economic liberalization associated with globalization, in conjunction with the development of new communications technologies, have propelled the emergence of powerful private actors at the international level, such as transnational NGO networks, which effectively have come to challenge the legitimacy of traditional structures of global governance.

In this context, institutional arrangements for multi-stakeholder cooperation have began to take shape and are now promoted as critical mechanisms for narrowing the “governance gap” in international politics and for the effective tackling of global problems. The third section provides an analysis of three cases of multi-stakeholder cooperation: 1) the World Commission on Dams; 2) the Forest Stewardship Council; and 3) The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria. For each case, the factors that led to the emergence of the initiative, as well as its resulting governing structure, output and limitations are discussed. In the concluding section, the most important lessons of these multi-stakeholder initiatives are discussed and distilled to some modest recommendations for how to best manage multi-stakeholder cooperation.