G-20 major economies

Legitimacy of G20: Self-appointed for the sake of G172?

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G20 countries
G20 countries

Last week the leaders of the G20 met in Seoul for the G20 Summit. For many, the ‘Group of 20’ (G20) is a largely self-appointed and barely legitimate body with no authority to assume its current role. Is this a valid perspective, and what does it mean for the ‘G172’ (the 172 member states of the United Nations)?

Over the next few blog posts I will examine the Seoul Summit Declaration in more detail from a development perspective. What decisions did the G20 make, and are there consequences for other countries excluded from the meeting which are unfair or favourable? What did the G20 Summit mean for influencing extreme poverty, and how does this relate to the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals?

Why the G20?

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The G20 Toronto Summit Declaration from June earlier this year stated:

We recognize that 2010 marks an important year for development issues. The September 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) High Level Plenary will be a crucial opportunity to reaffirm the global development agenda and global partnership, to agree on actions for all to achieve the MDGs by 2015, and to reaffirm our respective commitments to assist the poorest countries.

In this regard it is important to work with Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to make them active participants in and beneficiaries of the global economic system. Accordingly we thank Turkey for its decision to host the 4th United Nations Conference on the LDCs in June 2011.

Narrowing the development gap and reducing poverty are integral to our broader objective of achieving strong, sustainable and balanced growth and ensuring a more robust and resilient global economy for all. In this regard, we agree to establish a Working Group on Development and mandate it to elaborate, consistent with the G-20’s focus on measures to promote economic growth and resilience, a development agenda and multi-year action plans to be adopted at the Seoul Summit.

The G20 as a representative body has the ability and political will to make global change happen very quickly, if it chooses to do so. But to do so requires effort and participation from us.

Why a bridge?

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The bridge is an important metaphor for joining people, institutions, conversations, ideas, communities and places together. The bridge is a universal metaphor. Everyone understands the purpose of a bridge is and how it is used. A bridge has multiple functions, including:

  • Crosses a gap. Overcomes differences.
  • Joins two or more communities that otherwise are separated.
  • Gives more options.
  • Makes travel easier.
  • Connects cultures, ideas, differences.
  • Requires work from both sides for it to be structurally sound.
  • Good foundations needed, along with spans of the right material and length, as well as stable supports.
  • Allows help to be given. Allows someone to accept help when offered.

We seek to build a bridge between the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (specifically Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality) and the G20 (19 largest economic nations and the EU). This bridge requires the participation of many people to make this happen.

Participation- A Broad Overview

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Our Global Challenges:  The Millennium Develop...
Image by CSIS: Center for Strategic & International Studies via Flickr

How will the 10 City Bridge Run play out? It is about participation, but to the extent this occurs is not up to me, but the contribution of others. Here is a broad overview of how I see the initiative taking shape.

This might seem a little wordy, but a workable framework is needed for something that is a little complex. If you see a way to simply this, or just drop stuff off the list please let me know!

While this is an overview to work from, the initiative will be taken ‘one step at a time’.

This is a creative process of inquiry. Your participation is welcome at every point.

  • Observing: The 10 City Bridge Run began with observing the United Nations and the MDG, culminating at the late September New York Millennium Development Goals (MDG) High Level Plenary.
  • Designing: Prior to commencing the 10 City Bridge Run, a design process will occur to optimise participation and challenge what is expected to be achieved.
  • Listening: The November G20 Summit will be monitored closely to hear what decisions are being made influencing development and child mortality.
  • Carrying a message: From the time the G20 commences until the conclusion of the 10 City Bridge Run a month later, the 10 City Bridge Run will officially commence in earnest with the running of 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. Each country is a member of the G20, and each city tells a story in the narrative. Each run is representative of the 24,000 children that die every day around the world.
  • Bridge Building: During the running, the intention is to collate 24,000 photographs of human bridges. We want these to be meaningful, expressive and have impact.
  • Petition: After the run, the photographs of the bridges will be sent to each leader of G20 member states to express our collective appeal for action in reducing child mortality. The petition will applaud the leaders commitment to making change happen. The petition will hold the leaders to account for decisions influencing extreme poverty they make at the G20 Summit in Seoul.
  • Framework: Publish a co-created list of 10 actionable items to make a difference without needing to spend money with a working title of “10 Steps to Social Alchemy”. This will provide a framework for participative engagement during 2011.
  • Communication: 24,000 copies of a book with a working title of “Above the Line” containing 1,000 photographs selected from the photographs in the petition will be published and distributed to sponsors, schools and stakeholders.
  • Collaboration: Throughout 2011, collaborate with others using the framework “10 Steps to Social Alchemy” and the book “Above the Line” as an inspiration for engagement and action. The focus is on partnerships and enabling change. This embraces an idea shared by Steve Killelea that reducing the emotional distance between ourselves and ‘the other’ who we do not know is the first step to removing stereotypes and achieving a peaceful world where we can begin to make a difference.
  • Learning: $24,000 invested into water and sanitation directly through a selected organisation, as well as $24,000 invested into anti-malarial measures through the distribution of 10,000 mosquito nets will provide an opportunity to learn about the effectiveness of aid. How much is needed? How much is enough? Is there a point below which it is does not make a difference?
  • Accountability: Holding G20 countries accountable for their actions at meetings in 2011 as well as the 4th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries to be held in Turkey during June 2011.

Did you find this made sense? Clear? Too process orientated? Too complicated? Would you take a minute to give me your feedback?

Thanks for your consideration.


What are people saying about the G20?

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Participating G-20 nations Nations allowed ext...
Representation of G20

Looking ahead toward Seoul, what did people have to say about what took place in Toronto last June? Here are a few observations from the blog Sherpa from a range of NGO speaking on the broad topic of ‘development’:

  • The Global Campaign for Education expressed disappointment that the G20 did not progress further on a financial transaction tax that could go someway to filling the gap in funding left by the G8.
  • Save the Children called on the G20 to broaden their impact as a forum.
  • Save the Children US said the G-20 isn’t moving quickly enough to offer the kind of global economic leadership that ensures balanced growth and stability by improving the resilience of the world’s poor. The agency saw some encouraging language on narrowing the development gap, but it took no major, new action at this summit beyond establishing a working group and and reaffirming the importance of food security.
  • Oxfam says the G20 has drawn a blank on poverty.
  • WWF warned that sustainable economic recovery needed more than brief platitudes from the G20 on green recovery than what it delivered in Toronto. The agency said that the world leaders were still painting the economy in black and white but it must inlude green.
  • Actionaid UK said the G20 was bankrupt as the leaders lacked ideas and and any willingness to compromise. The organisation said the communique would be forgotten before the day was over.
  • World Vision applauded and welcomed the cancellation of Haiti’s International Financial Institutions (IFI) debt and the creation of  G20 Working Group on development. The organisation did express concern that the development agenda is taking a back seat to economic growth.
  • Tearfund said the G20 was a missed opportunity to show leadership on climate justice and to set a path to get back on track for a global deal post 2012.
  • Greenpeace said “important progress was made today in ending fossil fuels”.
  • Make Poverty History expressed concern that the G20 dealing with budget deficits through cutting back on government services will end up hurting the poor.
  • The ONE Campaign issues a statement at the end of the G20 Summit stating that the two working groups created in Toronto on development and on anti-corruption needed to focus on improving governance and mutual accountability.
  • The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) said the G20 summit showed an unfortunate lack of political will to fight poverty by delaying key actions such as the Robin Hood Tax and investing in clean energy and ending fossil fuel subsidies. The group also said the G20 needs to include Africa as a regular member. The group welcomed the establishment of a Working Group on Development.

Heart of Darkness: G20 Protests

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G20 London protest - "Don't be stupid".
"Don't be stupid"

Searching ‘G20‘ on YouTube I was amazed to see almost every link that comes up was of confrontation between protestors and police.

Of course, the range of issues the G20 discuss is broad. It is not only about extreme poverty. That is only a small part of the summit agenda.

Do the protesters at the G20 present a credible alternative?

Watch the video clip here of Toronto:

Or this one from London:

Stop the Clock!

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Two days before beginning the journey, I need to make another difficult decision to delay the commencement of the 10 City Bridge Run.

I decided the prudent path forward was to allow more time.
This of course made me consider how other people would react, the integrity of the message, and the overall purpose of what is hoped to be achieved.
I considered the following in making a decision:
  • Do I go now because I said I would and risk being stranded with no cash mid-journey (in the event no sponsorship is raised during the run)?
  • Do I just say it is too difficult (and in effect impossible) and give up, refunding all sponsorship received?
  • Do I postpone the event, risking the integrity of ‘the bridge’ framed between the September UN Conference and the G20 Summit? Postponing also introduces significant considerations around adverse weather conditions. Soon it will be winter in Korea- not ideal for running.


I started thinking about what I had been learning about the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) over the last week especially through writing my blog:

  • The likelihood of failure in meeting these in their entirety
  • The excuse of the global financial crisis setting back earlier achievements with the MDG prior to 2008 (this is the reason cited for failing to deliver on commitments to the United Nations by many countries)
  • The worsening situation of preventable unacceptable conditions in many locations, particularly sub-Saharan Africa

If you think that a delay of starting the run by a month is bad, consider these MDG.

Of course, there is no going back in time. I can’t make it September again. That is impossible. Neither can we make it 2000 again and retread progress of the MDG.

The reality is that there are not two days to go for the 10 City Bridge Run. There are 1905 days to go until the end of 2015 when the MDG will be assessed. This is what matters.

Rather than be frustrated, I ask you to consider the opportunity presented to optimise the impact of this 10 City Bridge Run.


The 10 City Bridge Run is a creative process of inquiry. It is a challenge. It is testing ‘the impossible’. It requires a little more effort than usual.


The bridge that has been defined between the United Nations Conference (20-22 September) and the G20 Summit on 10-12 November is far from redundant. It has formed the first of many (figurative) bridges that will be crossed.  The G20 Summit becomes the near bank supporting a journey that bridges countries, bridges conversations, and bridges the small actions of many.


This journey is raw, real and live.

Thoughts, concerns, questions or advice? I welcome all feedback.