Malaysia’s journey from an agrarian economy with widespread poverty and deprivation at independence in 1957 to one of the world’s best-performing upper-middle-income countries has been rapid. With a vibrant but mature democracy, and an economy which is approaching high-income status, there is no doubt that Malaysia is a developmental success story.
Yet, like other aspiring upper-middle-income countries, Malaysia faces a number of ‘last-mile’ development challenges.
Indeed, as the country gathers momentum towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) the pace of change threatens to leave some groups behind. Particularly for the geographically remote communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis, indigenous groups, and pockets of stateless people, migrants and refugees, significant disparities in SDG progress and access to key public services remain.
To address these critical gaps, our team at the Resident Coordinator’s Office have worked closely with the Malaysia SDG Foundation (MySDG Foundation), an entity specially created and resourced by the Government of Malaysia, to launch and roll out the Malaysia-UN SDG Trust Fund. Originally conceived by the Resident Coordinator’s Office and counterparts in the Ministry of Finance, the Fund supports UN agency and NGO programmes to deliver the SDGs to these often excluded and marginalized communities.
Unlocking SDG progress
Operating under a transparent and open funding model, the Fund is set to support a diverse portfolio of projects– ranging from empowering low-income school students whose education was badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to helping unlock the full potential of indigenous smallholder farmers. Guided by the priorities of the UN Cooperation Framework and the MySDG Foundation vision, projects were selected across three thematic pillars, which are also closely interlinked with the six transformative areas the UN Secretary-General has called for to catalyse progress across all SDGs:
(1) People & Prosperity – addressing livelihoods, health, and nutrition challenges. Example projects under this pillar include social protection and job opportunities for youth with disabilities, empowering vulnerable women, and tackling disparities between richer and poorer localities.
(2) Planet – enhancing peoples’ resilience to climate change via adaptive measures, combating biodiversity losses, supporting groups reliant on natural resources, and tackling pollution. A key
project here focuses on enabling forest communities to live in balance with their ecosystem and improve resilience alongside stemming biodiversity loss.
(3) Peace & Partnerships – fostering cohesion among Malaysia’s diverse communities, prioritizing human rights for all. Projects under this pillar deliver support to some of Malaysia’s most excluded groups – migrants, refugees, and undocumented people.
In response to the first call for proposals in June, the Fund received over 230 bids for funding from UN agencies and NGOs, covering a variety of SDGs and types of beneficiaries. From these, around 15 projects have been selected for implementation, with a financial envelope of around USD 4.3 million.
Bringing the right partners around the table
Although officially launched last year with a contribution from the government sponsored MySDG Foundation, the Fund is the outcome of years of intensive negotiations with the Government and other national partners.
“Managed by tripartite governance structure (the Government, the UN and the Foundation) , this innovative financing mechanism is hardwired for transparency and accountability, helping enable a high degree of autonomy and resource mobilization via domestic and UN channels.”
The Fund now aims to leverage further contributions from international donors and Malaysia’s large corporations. This will help the fund play a wider role in bringing key SDG players together – government ministries, the private sector, civil society, and non-governmental organizations.
Throughout the Fund’s development, our engagement with the government has been crucial. At the launch in January 2022, former Prime Minister YAB Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob described the Fund as an important platform for gathering resources to support the Sustainable Development Agenda across Malaysia. This commitment has been reiterated by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who, during the annual meeting of the National SDG Council in November 2023, reaffirmed the need for accelerated SDG progress through bold actions at both national and local levels.
The path ahead
While still in its early stages, the Malaysia-UN SDG Trust Fund offers a blueprint for other upper-middle-income countries facing similar challenges in closing SDG gaps and addressing disparities faced by hard-to-reach groups and communities.
Building on the Fund’s initial success requires further advocacy, strong partnerships, and the mobilization of additional resources. Together with government partners, our UN team in Malaysia is committed to supporting this trailblazing Fund and its promise to reach those who are furthest behind.
This blog was written by Karima El Korri, the UN Resident Coordinator in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. To learn more about the work of the UN in Malaysia visit malaysia.un.org.