Riza Joy Apatan, 20, VSO-ICS volunteer from the Philippines. Riza works alongside U.K. volunteer Hannah Goulding. They conduct and environmental awareness raising workshops and mobilize local youth groups to protect the Carood Watershed in Bohol. Photo by: VSO

People everywhere around the world want to be able to influence the decisions that affect their lives. As world leaders meet this week at the U.N. General Assembly to discuss a future path for addressing global poverty, they shouldn’t forget that people in the poorest countries and communities don’t want to be told what is best for them — they want to be active partners in their own development.

How can the discussions in New York truthfully reflect their needs, wants and desires? Over the past 15 years, we’ve seen firsthand that efforts to unite behind a common set of Millennium Development Goals have made a difference. Fewer people live in extreme poverty and more people have access to clean drinking water; more children are in school; fewer women die in childbirth. There are signs of progress in addressing malaria, HIV and AIDS, and other diseases.

However, one of the many lessons we’ve learned from the MDGs is that focusing on the end result, while failing to acknowledge the means by which development can and does happen, limits our ability to affect change.

Civil society is a critical partner in achieving a more people-centered approach to development. We are calling for governments and decision-makers to listen not only to the voices of the people, but also to support their involvement in the design, implementation and monitoring of any new goals that will shape sustainable development for over a decade to come. At VSO International, we also believe it’s time to finally recognize the wide range of actors involved and the importance of volunteerism to make the post-2015 agenda a success.

As we look ahead, we need to take into account the different world we live in compared to when the MDGs were drawn up in 2000 — including the ways in which inequality and economic crises are still hurting many. Much remains to be done to create an equitable and sustainable world where every person is safe, lives well and enjoys their human rights, and where political and economic systems deliver well-being for all women, men and children, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, within the limits of our planet’s resources.

That’s why we must take the lessons learned from this global approach and why the leaders meeting this week must re-energize the fight against poverty and inequality with an ambitious, transformative, common framework that can mobilize governments, civil society, parliaments, businesses and — most importantly — people.

Given the importance of this moment and the scale of the challenge, VSO has joined over 1,000 civil society organizations in more than 130 countries under the umbrella of the Beyond 2015 campaign. Our focus is creating a radical shift in understanding the relationship between people, our planet and the economy. We know that people want the framework that follows the MDGs to be strong enough to challenge and transform the issues around inequality, poverty and environmental destruction. We know they want an agenda that puts human rights at the core and commits to leaving no one behind, regardless of race, gender, disability, socio-economic status or sexual identity; that does not demand impossible choices of the poorest and most vulnerable; provides hope; and strengthens the networks that hold people together.

The challenge to our leaders starts now.

This article is co-signed by the directors of VSO’s federations: Angela Salt of the United Kingdom,Gerry Thompson of Ireland, Joris Eekhout of the Netherlands, Ben Ngutu of Kenya, and Marco Flores of the Philippines.

Doing More is an ongoing conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Australian Red Cross, Cuso International, IFRC, MovingWorlds, Peace Corps, Scope Global (formerly Austraining International), United Nations Volunteers, Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance and VSO.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Jim Emerson

    Jim Emerson is CEO of VSO International. With over 35 years of development experience at global, regional, national and community levels in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Emerson was previously secretary-general of the ChildFund Alliance and before had a long career with Plan International, serving in several positions including CEO, CFO and COO as well as emergency response leader in Haiti.