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Millennium Development Goals: 1,000 days to a brighter future…

Posted on 06/04/2013
By Vijay Krishnarayan

What about the next 999?

April 2014 marked 1,000 days until the start of the post 2015 Millennium Development Goal world. Over recent days and months, the organs of the United Nations, governments, civil society and elements of the private sector, have been pooling data, conducting analysis, modelling, strategising, meeting, networking, and debating to answer two big questions: Were the MDGs useful and if so how can we make whatever comes next, better?

It is right that time and energy is put into a thorough process of review, but voices from the South are asking: ‘What about now?’  Scarce airtime has been given to the next 999 days and what we hope to see accomplished before this 2015 watershed.

With this in mind the Commonwealth Foundation, in partnership with the United Nations Millennium Campaign asked civil society organisations in 14 countries where they would like to see emphasis placed in the coming months to have the greatest impact. These organisations covered a broad spectrum of sectors but they had one thing in common: they weren’t associated with the established voices (whether from multi-lateral organisations or international non-governmental organisations) that have dominated the post-2015 discourse.

Civil society organisations, especially in the Caribbean and Pacific have had little interaction with the MDGs framework over the last 13 years. Unlike their colleagues from larger multinational NGOs, the frame of their work is shaped by the imperative to meet immediate needs and is influenced directly by national and international factors. In this environment they voiced concern that global agenda-setting would take centre stage, literally at the expense of action needed now. They warned of stagnation in development while we grapple with getting what comes next, right.

In attempting to take stock of what remains to be done before 2015, it’s reasonable to ask – how have we done? Yet civil society organisations are pointing out that after 13 years of focused coordinated development, this is a near impossible task due to out-dated, inaccurate, biased and over-aggregated data. This lack of reliable, timely information has made identifying and targeting interventions and exercising accountability harder.

The research we’ve done shows that civil society organisations) recognise the opportunity this period of political buy-in offers to improve the broader development architecture. They identified a number of areas of strategic importance that would enable progress and guard against regression. 

There is immediate concern about the prevailing economic climate and increasing unemployment especially among young people with recognition that the economic downturn has the potential to unravel progress made over the last decade. Small island states, with structural trade disadvantages and high rates of migration have felt the effects of the economic downturn most acutely. Here, civil society organisations are calling for a progressive growth-orientated economic policy with investment in infrastructural projects; specifically roads and housing. This, they argue, must be coupled with adult education and vocational training programmes, and access to credit to stimulate small business. For these organisations, investment in setting minimum living standards to provide a social safety net is an imperative means of complementing progress on specific goals.  

In appreciation of progress made over the last 13 years, civil society is pushing for increased investment in the education and health sectors. But, the big message is that if the previous gains are not to be wasted, the MDGs urgently need to be translated from the global abstract to the well-formed national context, where it is more likely that development strategies have been formulated with the participation of civil society. 

With 999 days remaining it surely makes sense to mobilise all talents and capacities in one final push. The last 13 years has shown that governments can’t do it all on their own, so ways and means need to found to fully integrate civil society organisations in shaping strategy, delivering outputs and monitoring progress. Greater attention must be paid to enable civil society to play a more integral role. This includes: creating the legal and regulatory frameworks for the inclusion of civil society organisations in national development plans as partners for example by institutionalising the right to information.  

In parallel, there is an urgent need to enhance the capacity of civil society organisations to coordinate with each other and cooperate with those outside the sector. This can be done quickly, through the improvement of the structures for civil society – government interaction, and adequate resourcing for civil society, based on established need rather than government direction or donor desires.

The potential tragedy of this moment is that the last days of the MDGs see a split between those focused on what should come next and those rightly concerned with what needs to be done now. The soundings that we’ve taken from civil society organisations in the global South indicate that these two discourses are not mutually exclusive. There are practical steps that can be taken now that will provide the foundations of a better post-2015 landscape.