New Yorkers breathed a sigh of relief in late September as the barricades were taken down, the streets opened back up and the protesters and livery drivers retired from Midtown Manhattan.
What can we take away from the thousands of meetings held here at the end of September by political, corporate and civil society leaders on some of the most pressing global development challenges — and opportunities — of our time?
Here are six takeaways from New York #globaldev week.
1. Ebola is a game changer
Ebola seemed to be on everyone’s mind. New commitments and initiatives were announced from United Nations headquarters to the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting — to contain the crisis and prevent a repeat. That’ll require, most immediately, the provision of emergency relief and training of frontline health workers, and ultimately, the collection of more and better data as well as the improvement of health systems.
“If ever there was a case for using more of our government aid money to build efficient, smart and reliable comprehensive health systems in countries that don’t have them, this is it,” the former U.S. President Bill Clinton told a select group of reporters ahead of CGI in an exclusive interview.
So in New York, health officials huddled with counterparts from civil society and the private sector to discuss next steps. Global health advocates and communications experts mulled how to use media to educate the public and, perhaps, use this crisis to push for universal coverage not just in the countries currently affected by the virus’s outbreak but around the globe.
To the foreign aid community, Ebola is no business as usual. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has for the first time seconded several of its top health experts to World Health Organization offices in Geneva and West Africa. For Save the Children, the logistics of keeping employees on the ground safe from the deadly virus is mind-boggling, said President and CEO Carolyn Miles.
2. When action is lagging, new players will step up
World leaders have so far failed to finalize a climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. But as they prepare to finish the job next year in Paris, others are stepping up with bold commitments to track, publish and reduce emissions and take other steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Prime among them are corporations like IKEA, which announced in late September that it is working toward sourcing 100 percent of its plastic from recycled or renewable materials.
At Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit, dozens of majors announced sustainability plans as well. For the development community, this means an entirely new set of players — one that is passionate and ready for action.
3. Accountability is key
A fascinating discussion took place at CGI about the need for transparency and accountability. The question: How do you talk about failure — especially to the public and to donors who insist on maximizing value for money?
There were more questions than answers. How should nonprofit organizations report disappointing results to their investors — and how can the latter establish a climate where failure leads to positive change, not the immediate end of a partnership?
The bottom line in this discussion as well as many others happening across the Big Apple, though, was that accountability is key and mechanisms to ensure it should be built into every development project from the start.
4. The MDGs should be taken forward, not forgotten
Negotiations are in full swing on a set of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. But that doesn’t mean work on the MDGs should stop then: Many of the MDGs won’t be met in many parts of the world, and the post-2015 agenda must ensure progress continues.
Signs are good. On Sept. 25, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon led a meeting on Every Woman Every Child, the initiative he launched four years ago to reduce maternal and child mortality. The mood was good as representatives from many of the initiative’s 300 partner organizations mingled at U.N. headquarters and vowed to push forward.
There’s momentum on the other MDGs as well, and most industry insiders expect new goals to drive further progress.
5. It’s all about partnerships
Of the the eight MDGs, one has always stood out because it seems more like a means than an end: MDG 8, which calls for the creation of a global partnership for development. It may have taken a few years for the aid community to warm up to the idea of cross-sectoral partnerships. Now, they’re proliferating.
Ban, for instance, wants partnerships to be part of every program or initiative the United Nations rolls out. (It’s another reason why EWEC got such prominent billing this week in New York.)
Other donors have been beefing up their partnerships and innovation shops, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, which created the Global Development Lab last year to focus on science, innovation, technology and partnership.
In New York, USAID launched the Development Innovation Fund with the U.K. Department for International Development, Swedish aid agency SIDA, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Omidyar Network. The $200 million instrument, meant to bring innovations to scale, was one of many other partnerships that were announced this week.
6. The future of development is being written today
Development executives are largely upbeat about the next decade, a recent Devex survey reveals. The same sense was evident in New York this week, despite the humanitarian crises in West Africa, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
And even on Ebola, Clinton told reporters that he feels “much better now” than he did earlier that month, before the U.S., U.K, French and other governments and institutions made large commitments to fight the outbreak and the United Nations named Anthony Banbury as his special representative and head of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, and David Nabarro as his special envoy for Ebola.
There was a lot of talk at CGI and elsewhere about the growing role of the “fourth sector” — for-profit foundations — in international development cooperation. This debate will continue.
The same is true with the post-MDG agenda. In both cases, today’s actions will determine tomorrow’s development.