A colleague of mine working on the post-Millennium Development Goal (MDG) framework said only last week "we get the chance for deep thought in the development sector once every 20 years, let's not waste it". Judging by the speech to UK civil society organisations, Ivan Lewis MP, shadow secretary of state for international development, is seizing the moment.
That comment was made at a Beyond 2015 workshop, part of a global group tasked with taking all the inputs made by civil society to the UN led post-MDG process (let's call it post-2015) and turning them into coherent thoughts on the key concepts for the next global development framework.
What was encouraging to hear from Lewis was that many of the themes from those civil society consultations are reflected in the current thinking of the Labour Party (on which, it seems, they are happy to receive further input). Global inequality featured heavily in each setting, recognising that extreme poverty is one manifestation of that, but that all societies have varying degrees of inequality and addressing those could be a unifying global theme.
Other common themes include human rights, environmental sustainability and equitable growth and a broader perspective on good governance.
But there were some specifics in Ivan's speech that merit some of that "deep thought."
An absolute bolt from the blue was the suggestion to end aid dependency by 2030. It's a statement I've heard many times in my 17 years in international development - usually from a 'bright young thing' (I think I was one, once) saying - "of course, our main aim is to work ourselves out of a job." At which the wiser, more experienced around the table chuckle silently at their wonderful naivety. But this time it was being stated as a clear policy position by an opposition which has proven its dedication to ODA when in power. A credible answer to those who critique ODA in general and ask when the tap will be turned off.
There were other examples such as a focus in each goal on the bottom quintile in each society and the bottom billion globally. This would be a huge structural change from the current MDG approach, but is potentially a credible alternative to the "zero-goal" approach which targets everyone, but may well again focus first on the easiest.
Of course, it wouldn't be a blog by an NGO-staffer if there weren't also some pleas for areas missed out in Lewis' speech.
Firstly, a focus on older people was welcome, but once again disability was missing, despite so much focus on inequality. The first WHO and World Bank World Disability Report makes it very clear disabled people are a significant and growing group. A focus on inequality must specifically address this constantly marginalised group in addition to women, children and older people.
Secondly, it seems already informally agreed in the wider post-2015 debate that the current three health-focused goals will be replaced by one overall goal - perhaps with some of the current goals as targets. This already suggests a significant move away from human-development focused goals to economic, structural and environmental goals. In Lewis' speech, these seemed to be further conflated to a joint theme around health and education. To reduce the four MDGs on two key developmental issues to just one - albeit with many targets - arguably risks diverting attention from one of the major achievements of the current MDGs - a shift from an economically-focused view of development, to a human-centred one, very much reflected in the thinking of the Millennium Declaration.
To see what this might mean, you only need to look at MDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. The goal has very much been in the forefront of developmental discussion and efforts but the focus has been on only one of the three targets- the reduction of people living under $1.25 a day. The other two targets - on hunger and on full employment - are barely mentioned, which has contributed to the current campaign on hunger which Lewis rightly lauded, and a real push to include a goal on jobs in the new framework.
So it's a case of recognising the strengths of a simple framework, but also acknowledging that if over-simplified, patchy progress will be made - are we sure we want that patchy progress to be in the fight against AIDS, the reduction of child/ maternal mortality, or the chance to eliminate several of the so-called Neglected Tropical Diseases?
Overall this speech was a seriously welcome and challenging addition to a wider debate which already risks settling for an expedient tweak to the current MDG framework, some minor adjustments to the global economic and political system and a passing nod to bringing together coherent thinking on sustainability and international development.
I hope that Beyond 2015's work is another such input and that these, among others, will provoke deep thought, reflection and then action, on the world we want our children to grow up in.
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