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DEVELOPMENT: When Poverty Goals Fail, What Next?

Portia Crowe

MONTREAL, Canada, Sep 13 2011 (IPS) - The United Nations is the only legitimate body to lead a post- 2015 action plan for development, according to civil society ambassadors from around the world.

Representatives from over 70 civil society organisations (CSOs) met Sunday at the 2011 CIVICUS World Assembly to work towards creating a new global agenda when the U.N. Millennium Development Goals reach their 2015 deadline.

The purpose of Sunday’s meeting, according to Greenpeace International Executive Director and former CIVICUS Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo, was “clarifying the big questions that we still have to answer”.

“I just pray and hope that the political will will be there on the part of civil society,” Naidoo, who is also an ambassador for the Global Call to Action against Poverty, told IPS.

The talks were held under the umbrella campaign Beyond 2015, which links over 150 CSOs in more than 140 countries worldwide. Although similar talks have occurred at the national and even European level, the Sep. 10-12 CIVICUS meeting was the first to be held at such an international level, explained Beyond 2015 international organiser Leo Williams.

“Obviously all of the major players from civil society throughout the whole world were not there,” Williams told IPS, “but we specifically took advantage of the fact that there was a CIVICUS World Assembly that’s already on the radar, where you have a wide selection of global actors.”

Many activists agree on the validity of the United Nations Millennium Declaration, but insist that the gap between the declaration and the resulting goals and indicators is too wide.

Naidoo said that, in working with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), civil society has been “trying to make the best out of a bad framework that was put on the table”.

“We are not talking about eradicating hunger, we are talking about reducing it by 50 percent by 2015. Not to even be able to achieve that is pathetic on the part of political leadership,” he said, referring to the first of eight goals set by the United Nations.

Williams acknowledged, “There is a realisation that we won’t achieve the MDGs by 2015.”

“We need to be moving towards a different agenda,” he said, “but the idea is that any future vision is fully informed by what’s happened over the last 15 years. I think we as a world would be a bit foolhardy not to speak to the people who were originally involved.”

Sering Falu Njie, deputy director of policy at the U.N. Millennium Campaign, agreed.

“Whatever it is we need to come up with, it has to be based on what lessons we have learned,” he told IPS. “We could come up with something totally different, but it has to be based on evidence of how things have fared in the last few years.”

Beyond 2015 has deemed several “must-haves” necessary for any future framework to be considered legitimate – including a strong connection to sustainable development, recognition that development involves more than foreign aid, a universal application of responsibility across the global North and South, and enforceable accountability mechanisms.

The campaign also outlines four possible options for post-MDG plans: no replacement of the framework, an extension of the 2015 deadline, an updating of the current goals and indicators, or a radically new and different framework.

Most civil society discussions tend towards the latter option, explained Williams, and the CIVICUS meeting was no exception. But participants did raise concern about the use of the term “framework”.

“There seems to be a bit of tension about the word ‘framework’, which is an interesting new nuance that hasn’t come out in the European discussions,” Williams told IPS.

“Maybe it’s not a framework, maybe it’s a vision, maybe it’s an agenda,” he said.

Moving forward: An uncertain partnership

Beyond 2015 also emphasises the importance of United Nations leadership throughout the planning process – and of receiving direct attention from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But as for the nature of the relationship between the United Nations and civil society, participants in Sunday’s meeting were less certain.

“The U.N. is the only legitimate global governing body to lead this process,” Williams granted, “[but] at the moment, you have various breeds of thinking that are not completely in silos but not completely joined up either about how to do big global consultations on this.”

Greenpeace’s Naidoo called for a reinvention of U.N. and CSO’s roles.

“If we are saying that it cannot be development as usual, it cannot be business as usual, it cannot be the U.N.’s operation as usual, we on the civil society side have to say it cannot be activism as usual either,” he said.

“To use an Obama phrase, we need to ‘press the reset button’ on how we engage with the U.N. system,” he added.

The U.N.’s Falu Njie said that civil society “need to be realistic in what they expect, so that we all put our efforts together into something that is meaningful, rather than spending time having all these intellectual arguments.”

“It’s an issue of managing expectations – what realistically can we expect, and how can we all work together for the good of everybody,” he told IPS.

But Falu Njie’s colleague John Samuel, who is part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) MDG Gap Task Force, noted the importance that the U.N. places on civil society’s input.

“I strongly believe, as an advisor to the UNDP, that it’s very important to listen to multiple perspectives of civil society and campaigns,” he told IPS, emphasising the need for “a much more participatory consultative process”.

According to Williams, the United Nations has been very responsive to Beyond 2015’s correspondence.

“We’re ahead of the game with this. We’ve gotten further than the U.N. has, and the U.N. fully recognises this,” he told IPS. “It’s really good to know that we’re seen as a useful resource.”

“So if we could keep ahead of the curve, I think we do have a really good opportunity,” he said.

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