Image by Knud Falk
  • Report
  • 11 December 2019

Donors at the triple nexus: Lessons from Sweden: Chapter 1



Working at the ‘nexus’ between emergency response and longer-term approaches is necessary to reduce the need, vulnerabilities and risks faced by crisis-affected people, supporting resilient livelihoods and ensuring that people are not ‘left behind’ or trapped in poverty. This has been long understood and is reflected in the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals to “leave no one behind”, but has gained renewed focus as a policy agenda since the 2016 Agenda for Humanity called for humanitarian and development actors to work together to achieve ‘collective outcomes’ for people. This was followed by the creation of a United Nations Joint Steering Committee to pilot a “New Way of Working”: collaborative, multi-year approaches drawing on the comparative strengths of multiple actors. Building on this, in February 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) published its recommendation on the ‘humanitarian-development-peace nexus’.[1] This provides a clear set of working principles for DAC members and a common reference point for all relevant organisations. It defines the ‘nexus’ as the “interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions” and the ‘nexus approach’ as the “aim of strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity, capitalising on the comparative advantages of each pillar” (Box 1).

Financing is crucial to realising these commitments – not just to provide funding for interventions, but to enable and incentivise new ways of working collaboratively and coherently. Bilateral government donors clearly have an important role to play in supporting, shaping and catalysing system-wide and context-specific coordination and action. However, for many donors, funding and financing approaches to the nexus are still in the process of catching up with the policy agenda, and there is a need to share learning and develop best practice both in-house and collectively. All donors face similar ‘nexus’ questions: how to balance systematic top-down approaches with the latitude for tailored in-country initiatives; what scale of ambition to aim for in the spectrum from complementarity to coherence; how to focus on both internal change and system transformation? And ultimately, they all face the same central question: what works?

This paper is part of a series which aims to document and share current donor practice at the nexus, with a view to informing practical global dialogue on these questions and more.

This study focuses on Sweden as significant contributor of official development assistance (ODA). At the latest count, it was the eighth largest government donor of ODA and the sixth largest of humanitarian assistance. As an equivalent proportion of gross national income (GNI), it ranks much higher: 1.1% and 0.17%, respectively. A recent OECD DAC peer review of Sweden’s performance as an ODA donor was highly positive, finding it overall to be an “adept, ambitious and influential actor on global sustainable development” and an “effective and principled” humanitarian donor.[2] In terms of wider coherence of government policy with ODA objectives, Sweden generally ranks high.[3]

Sweden recognises the importance of addressing fragility and risk for global security and in order to “leave no one behind” and meet the needs of the furthest behind. It has therefore increased both its ODA allocation to peacebuilding and the overall proportion of its ODA spent in fragile contexts. In 2017, it directed US$1.36 billion to fragile states, equivalent to 0.25% of its GNI, making it the sixth largest DAC donor to fragile states.[4] This study looks at three dimensions of how Sweden translates these investments into meaningful support for action at the triple nexus. It focuses on three pillars that support this: policy and strategy, allocation and programme cycles and organisational systems.

Like many other donors, Sweden is at an important juncture in implementing its nexus commitments. This report has highlighted the many initiatives and programme examples that Sweden and its partners have implemented. Even within the period of research and writing, new changes and ideas are underway. The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs must now continue to work concertedly, both internally (between agencies and departments) and externally (with implementing and collaborating partners), to co-develop a clear and shared understanding of what the triple nexus means for Sweden as a donor and how this works in practice. This report identifies planned next steps as well as a series of further suggestions, which although grounded in the Swedish experience, may also be relevant for other donors facing similar challenges.

This report is part of a series of studies intended to share emerging lessons and approaches as donors evolve their practical application of their nexus commitments. Research on the UK’s approach will be published in a parallel study, and lessons and questions from both studies will be published in a synthesis report. Our intention is that these materials will inform dialogue and developments within and between donors, as it is clear that making the necessary policy and practice shifts must be a highly considered and commonly concerted effort. It might be too early to measure performance against the DAC recommendation, but it is never too soon to share learning.

Share box

Box 1

A note on terminology

This paper uses ‘nexus’ as a short-hand term to refer to the connections between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding approaches. It aligns with the definition in the OECD DAC recommendation:

  • ‘Nexus’ refers to the interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actions.
  • ‘Nexus approach’ refers to the aim of strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity. The approach seeks to capitalise on the comparative advantages of each pillar – to the extent of their relevance in the specific context – in order to reduce overall vulnerability and the number of unmet needs, strengthen risk management capacities and address root causes of conflict.

We are clear that working ‘at the nexus’ to make these connections is not an end in itself, but a means to ultimately addressing and reducing “people’s unmet needs, risks and vulnerabilities, increasing their resilience and addressing the root causes of conflict”.

In referring to resilience, we align with the OECD DAC definition, on which Sida also closely bases its definition,[5] as:

The ability of households, communities and nations to absorb and recover from shocks, while positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term stresses, change and uncertainty. Resilience is about addressing the root causes of crises while strengthening the capacities and resources of a system in order to cope with risks, stresses and shocks.[6]


  • 3
    Sweden ranked first for policy coherence under the Center for Global Development’s Commitment to Development Index.
    Return to source text
  • 5
    Government of Sweden, 2016. Appropriation letter from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 28 April 2016.
    Return to source text