This is a crucial moment for Africa. At the opening Intergovernmental meeting on the Post 2015 framework in New York in January I was invited to share the voices of African people with those tasked with drafting the key documents for UN member states to agree in September. These documents will replace the Millennium Development Goals agreed by member states in 2000.
Together with my colleague and former volunteer Nancy Maina, we tried to stress the importance of African communities being part of the decisions that affect their lives.
Asking people what they need
I have been part of the Participate Research Initiative which did months of consultations with people across Africa (as well as South America and Asia), documenting the perspectives of ordinary people through a series of participatory research workshops.
When grassroots communities described their realities, they taught me that the development they envisioned is not the same as the development the majority of the world imagines they want. In their own narrative, the strongest message from communities is a deep desire to be given the ability to do it for themselves.
These people identified critical blockages standing between them and their ability to function. This catalogue ranged from feeling vulnerable and excluded based on social norms, legal and political discrimination, corruption, insecurity and crime, inadequate skills and lack of opportunities to own assets. Unlocking the African moment requires removal of these blockages.
So first of all, the new development framework mustn't just ask, "what can I do for the people?" but also "what are the people doing?" and "how can we accompany them in their local development innovation?"
Shifting focus to the often-unrecognized people like volunteer groups, grassroots community led organizations and marginalized communities will be crucial to the success of any new and ambitious plan.
Name checking the volunteers
If all the volunteers in the world were put into one country, that country would be the 9th most populous country in the world. This is not always acknowledged so I was determined to set this straight when I was given the opportunity to speak on to the UN.
I explained that for every paid member of staff that the Red Cross has globally, they have 20 volunteers. Back in sub-Saharan Africa where I come from, that figure is even greater (the Red Cross and Red Crescent have 327 volunteers for every paid member of staff). At VSO , the numbers of national volunteers supplementing the work of international volunteers in education, livelihoods, business and health have also been growing significantly in the past 15 years.
We need to name check this vital group in the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As Nancy said in her speech at the civil society forum on January 14th, both the Political Declaration and Means of Implementation Agreement that will sit alongside the Sustainable Development Goals, Targets and Indicators, must be just as sound and robust as the goals, targets and indicators we choose.
Volunteering is often the first step in people's active participation in their communities and countries as evidenced in the inspiring 500 Ways initiative. With effective support and planning, we can mobilize the huge pool of skills, capacity and passion that volunteers have for the realization of the SDGs.
Shoulders to the wheel
Wrapping up the two day meeting, the co-facilitator, Kenya's Ambassador to the UN Macharia Kamau, said that by September we need to have Heads of State coming to New York with real enthusiasm for this agenda. He called on us all to work together - civil society, government and academics - to tell the world why these are important and how they can be transformative. I, for one, am determined to put my shoulder to the wheel with my people so we can unlock the barriers to making this Africa's moment.