The U.N. Secretary General’s High-Level Panel has released its much anticipated report on the post-2015 agenda, and initial reactions from civil society generally range from pleasant surprise to “wow.” When the panel was appointed in July 2012, with three heads of state as co-chairs, civil society organizations were skeptical that such a high-level group could produce the “bold, yet practical” framework mandated by the secretary general.
A New Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development is in fact both bold and practical, and goes well beyond what many expected or thought possible. Nothing this inspiring, comprehensive, and well-thought out has come our way in a long time.
Two years of intergovernmental negotiations and massive civil society advocacy now lie ahead. Here are ten noteworthy features of the report that we must not forget or lose in that process.
1. It puts forward the bold vision of eradicating extreme poverty. The report convincingly takes a stand that we can be the generation that eliminates extreme poverty by 2030. This uplifting rallying cry is something that the development community can organize around.
2. People are at the heart of the report. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the panel’s report is a product of broad consultation with diverse groups around the world, including people living in poverty and more than 5,000 civil society organizations. In the opening pages of the report, the panel members recount what they learned from listening to the different groups. The report’s twelve illustrative goals reflect this people-centered focus.
3. Reducing inequalities and social inclusion are key. As John Norris, an advisor to U.S. panel member John Podesta, said last week that the report emphasizes “from stem to stern the need to deal with inequality.” In the introduction to the illustrative goals, this statement is in bold: “Targets will only be considered ‘achieved’ if they are met for all relevant income and social groups.”
4. The social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainability are united into one agenda. A major breakthrough in the report is the integration of these three streams into one coherent proposed agenda. Inclusive growth requires specific interventions to reach the poorest and most marginalized to connect them to economic and political systems. The well-being of poor communities is integrally linked to sustainable access to arable land, water and energy.
5. All stakeholders have shared responsibility and joint accountability. The proposed “New Global Partnership” recognizes that all stakeholders have an important role to play, including national governments, local authorities, international institutions, business, civil society organizations, philanthropists, and social impact investors. Each actor who signs on also becomes accountable for measuring progress, with mechanisms that still need to be thoughtfully defined.
6. The agenda presents a practical framework on which to build and elaborate. The report opens by identifying five big transformative shifts which need to drive the agenda, and then proposes 12 illustrative goals with 54 possible targets. The Panel recommends the goals as “universal,” representing common aspirations for all countries, with countries in both the South and the North setting national targets.
7. The gender equality agenda is comprehensive. After decades of experience, research, and advocacy, this new post-2015 agenda puts women and girls in the center of development effectiveness. Whereas the MDGs aimed for gains for women and girls in a few areas, the gender equality goal’s targets encompass: preventing and eliminating violence, ending child marriage, ensuring property and ownership rights, and eliminating discrimination in political, economic, and public life. Also, the goal to “ensure healthy lives” includes a target to “ensure universal sexual and reproductive health.” As the report maintains, “no society has become prosperous without a major contribution from its women.”
8. Eliminating conflict and violence and fostering peace must be part of the agenda. People’s most fundamental right, according to the report, is “freedom from fear, conflict, and violence.” Since 41 percent of the world’s poor live in fragile and conflict affected states, eliminating conflict and violence must be addressed as core to people’s well being. A focus on fragile states needs to be prioritized as details of the plan are developed.
9. Innovative and coherent financing needs priority attention. The report recognizes that Official Development Assistance now accounts for only a small portion of development financing and emphasizes the major role of domestic resource mobilization and private capital flows for supporting the post-2015 agenda. The dual challenge is how to mobilize new sources as well as coordinate a multiplicity of funding streams. High level deliberations on financing need to get underway by early 2014.
10. The panel itself can serve as a role model for engagement going forward. Our global community should draw inspiration from how the panel members worked over the past ten months. The panel, a globally diverse group of experienced and strong minded individuals, seized the opportunity to rise above their differences, to find common ground, and to be bold as well as practical.
When such a major report is released, the normal response is to pull it apart, analyze its flaws and what’s missing, and point out weaknesses in its feasibility. Rather than engaging in a lengthy debate on the content of the report over the next two years, the global community should concentrate most of our energy and talents on figuring out the details of implementation, such as refining targets, developing indicators, determining multi stakeholder accountability mechanisms, and revolutionizing data systems. The panel’s vision is daring and could potentially revolutionize international development. If we, like them, can go beyond “business as usual.”
Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.