Trying to the get the attention of a child when they are playing or watching TV is an almost impossible task. Scientists say, because of their young age, children are not intentionally ignoring their parents. Rather they have inattentional blindness — lack of awareness, especially outside the immediate focus of attention.
Getting the world’s governments to listen to the voices of their citizens and fulfil their promises on the Millennium Development Goals is not dissimilar. The world is certainly a better place because of the progress toward these goals, but some of the goals will not be met, and progress toward others has been uneven and inequitable.
Where MDG progress has been slow, one of the most frequent explanations has been the lack of accountability mechanisms attached to these aspirational goals. Ironic really, when consultations over the past years have shown that monitoring and accountability involving citizens directly enhances development effectiveness.
To avoid repeating this mistake with the MDGs’ successor — the sustainable development goals, also referred to as the post-2015 agenda — organizations like World Vision have been working with people around the planet to make the case for grass roots-to-global, citizen-driven accountability to be embedded at the heart of SDG implementation.
In an effort to get past governments’ inattentional blindness to their needs, community representatives from Africa and Asia have traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to talk in person with their country representatives during a side event of the World Health Assembly. They bring with them the results of local and national Citizen Hearings — organized by World Vision and its partners — that brought together community and government leaders to listen to, and act on, the views of citizens on local and national priorities for women’s, children’s and newborn health.
Their aim is to shape the foundations of an ongoing accountability mechanism on this issue, with the engagement of communities and civil society. The success of the post-2015 development framework must be measured by its ability to serve the most disadvantaged communities, particularly reaching the most vulnerable children within these, in the hardest places to live.
But to serve these communities authentically, the post-2015 framework must be accountable to them. Who better to measure the success than the people at the center? After all, it is their lives — and the lives of their children — that depend upon the goals’ success.
But to equip people to play this important role, significant investments will be needed, especially at the subnational level. World Vision’s experience suggests that seven steps hold the key to making this possible for everyone.
This week, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York, World Vision is launching a new report called “Grass Roots to Global” that lays out those seven steps. This guidance, combined with the collective voices of citizens, means national governments have no reason not to make accountability an integral part of their efforts to meet the SDGs.
So, just as inattentional blindness recedes as children mature, national governments are being called to grow up, to listen, to respond — and to be held accountable to their citizens.
Then, and only then, will the world have a chance of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema is the director for maternal child health and infectious diseases at World Vision International. He is primarily focused on providing global leadership for strategy, capacity building, emergency response, with responsibility for improving program quality, and measuring program outcomes.
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