Gillard on post-2015: Match financing with goals and focus on what matters

Julia Gillard, former prime minister of Australia. Photo by: Craig Sillitoe / CC BY-NC-SA

Like most international development movers and shakers, Julia Gillard sees 2015 as a “year of decision” and a “pivotal moment for global development.”

The next 12 months will see the adoption of a new global climate agreement in Paris, the global deadline for aid data transparency in Busan, South Korea, and, of course, the creation of the post-2015 agenda. International leaders and stakeholders are expected to gather in New York City in September to carve out this new “plan,” which will serve as a blueprint to guide development programs for the next 15 years.

But while opinions may differ on how far (or not) we’ve come to pursuing and achieving development goals, Australia’s former prime minister emphasized the need for stakeholders to not only remain focused on improving these goals but to also figure out what to prioritize, including guiding principles, objectives and, of course, financing.

“To me, the agenda for this year is clear. The status quo is unacceptable. We need to raise our level of ambition and rapidly accelerate progress toward achieving our goals,” Gillard said in a speech during a lecture at the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. “[There are] powerful possibilities [in] working together, in partnership at a global scale.”

She offered three clear-cut recommendations for the rest of the international development community to consider as the year of “beckoning” continues.

First, everyone must get the sustainable development goals right — not just finished, but right. Gillard said that “in defining these goals, [we must] ensure they are measurable so we can show the progress toward achieving them.”

Second, focus on what matters — “spend our time on the debates we need … and not be sidetracked by those we don’t.” Gillard shared that the growing number of discussions focusing on institutions and processes, instead of concrete actions and solutions, takes the community “back to square one and lose valuable time and energy to tackle the urgent needs at hand.”

Lastly, the former prime minister explained that while an increase in the level of financing is crucial, there is also a need to make sure that the money will be spent on achieving these post-2015 goals.

Focus on education

But Gillard is a staunch advocate of education. And as the head of the Washington, D.C.-based Global Partnership for Education, the focus of her speech not surprisingly centers on the importance of learning and getting children back to school.

“Education [is] a right, not a privilege … quality education for all, not just a few,” she stressed, adding that education can become a foundation for sustainable and inclusive development for all countries. As data suggests, countries that promote equal and quality education for all have higher living standards, lower disease rates, longer life expectancy, greater household financial stability, more choices for women, better nourished children and higher revenue for governments. More importantly, “successive generations do better.”

More than 58 million children of primary school age still don’t go or have no access to schools, while 40 percent of them will never enter a classroom, according to GPE data. And half of these children reside in fragile situations like in war-torn Syria, Ebola-hit West Africa and even typhoon-ravaged Philippines, where schools are forced to close, get destroyed or become evacuation centers.

While education remains a basic foundation for development, it should not be a be-all, end-all approach to development, Curtis Chin, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, argued. Chin, however, does share Gillard’s view on focusing on what matters.

“Education must be a critical part of any nation’s development agenda, but improving education alone is not the solution to the myriad problems in … many developing nations,” he told Devex. “Too often, the first impulse in seeking to improve education results is to focus on increasing educational funding and resources. But educational reform needs to be much more than about money spent.”

He also echoed Gillard’s views on the post-2015 agenda, saying that “political support and financial resources” are at the heart of these global discussions. Chin clarified however that decisions and solutions — not just on education, but on all development sectors in general — should keep end beneficiaries in mind.

“No top-down post-2015 development agenda can replace the bottom-up learning from the everyday experiences of teachers, parents and schoolchildren who know that money alone is not the solution to stronger education systems,” he concluded.

What targets must be included in the post-2015 agenda to ensure equal and quality education for all? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.