Millennium Development Goals

Few Will Have The Greatness To Bend History Itself

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IMG_4100“Who are you doing this for?” This is perhaps the most frequently asked questions of me as I set about the epic journey which I had called the 10 City Bridge Run. I ran 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. I wasn’t doing it for myself, and I wasn’t doing it for an organisation. Truth be told, I was doing it for the many millions of children born and unborn, along with their parents and communities to give them hope and the enjoyment of a good start to life by combatting child mortality. Audaciously, I proposed that through this crazy stunt that we could open a conversation to improve the delivery of child survival.

Initially, I did think this question about “who or which organisation was I doing it for?” was entirely reasonable. I now look back and see that instead that question is based on a flawed premise that it is only through having the juggernaut of a fundraising institution behind you that our efforts might have any credibility. We don’t need anything other than our own sense of daring and will to make change happen. It doesn’t mean will will be successful, but then again, not everything the large institutions do is successful either. Certainly there are questions about probity that need to be addressed, but that is also a matter of trust between those that might support me and my own personal integrity and conduct.

Can we really give ourselves permission to tinker a little as individuals collaborating together so as to put a dent in the universe?

Yes, it is about us as individuals and what we will do together. This thought returned to me as a startling epiphany today while I was re-reading “The End of Poverty” by Jeffrey Sachs. “The End Of Poverty” is a great treatise on how poverty can be eradicated by 2025 from the perspective of an economist. What struck me as profound in Sachs’ book is the final paragraphs are dedicated not to how the UN or the IMF or the World Bank will save the day, but he writes very pointedly:

In the end, however, it comes back to us, as individuals.

He amplifies this comment by quoting Robert kennedy:

Great social forces, Robert Kennedy powerfully reminds us, are the mere accumulation of individual actions.

And he goes on to end his book with a powerful quote from Kennedy, repeated below:

Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation…

It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different enters of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

I’m inviting you, asking you, challenging you, and imploring you to do something that maybe you might not have done before. Do something daring. Go ahead and take action, become an activist. Do it as yourself, an individual representing yourself, but as part of a collective experience. What that something daring is will to some degree be up to you.

We need your participation in the series of Design Forum that are unfolding. Let your little droplets of activity send out tiny ripples of hope, so that together we will build a current that will sweep like a tsunami of activity that might even bend history itself.

I dare you.

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A Worthy Resolution for 2015

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IMG_26392015 is the year that a series of long-awaited Design Forum convened to open a conversation where a central question will be addressed: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?”

This is the culmination of a running stunt called the 10 City Bridge Run which involved me running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries. Right now as I type this post, I am standing on the verge of the ninth leg here in Toronto. The weather is cold with some snow flurries, and at -9 degrees celsius, there is every possibility it could snow while I am out running. I will be running between the cusp of two years: setting off when the new year turns in Sydney, and ahead of the new year here in Toronto. Bridging the years.

The resolution is to improve child survival.

One way you can help now is by signing this petition to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, who is Australia’s Foreign Minister, where together we will be asking her to be the official champion for this series of Design Forum.

I made two videos along this journey which give a little more information below. Happy New Year!

To put that into perspective…

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IMG_1861The G20 communique says that if the $2 trillion initiative is fully implemented, it will lift global GDP by 2.1 percent above expected levels by 2018 and create millions of jobs.

That is good news by any measure.

Meanwhile, the Millennium Development Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality which was agreed to by all United Nations Member States in 2000 to reduce 1990 levels of child mortality by two-thirds before 2015 has acheived favourable progress, but will likely fall short of its objective.

A reduction of 3% was needed year by year to achieve the MDG4 goal.

Achieving the required reduction in child mortality would have saved millions of lives, and reduced the burden on developing countries significantly by addressing population, health, environmental, infrastructure and corruption issues.

One of the problem of the G20 declarations is that they are very broad on commitment to specific issues such as child survival. But it is not a case of either/or. We can lift global GDP by 2.1% above 2018 levels and work to improve child survival too! The good news is that both complement each other, and so are symbiotic goals.

How might we do this? That is the discussion to unfold during the Design Forum next year. In the meantime, good ideas about how to improve child survival are welcome.

Will the G20 Cut It? Four Lessons From Brisbane

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Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin meet koalas before the start of the first G20 meeting in Brisbane. Photograph: Andrew Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin meet koalas before the start of the first G20 meeting in Brisbane. Photograph: Andrew Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

The G20 has been widely criticised in past years as being all talk and no action. When first framing the 10 City Bridge Run ahead of the Seoul G20 Summit in 2010, I asked “Will the G20 cut it?” at this link.

In the wake of the wash-up from the Brisbane G20 Summit, this question still is worth asking. What did we learn from Brisbane? Here is my analysis in four lessons:

Firstly, it is important to recognise that the G20 is a global economic institution. This means that the language will largely be around issues of trade, employment, debt, taxation and monetary policy. This does also include development issues relating to poverty as key to this equation. The G20 Development Working Group begins the 2014 Brisbane Development Update with a statement that is more than just a throwaway line:

Development remains a key element of the Group of Twenty (G20) agenda.

I sense that the G20 recognises both its ability and limitation to influence development through strengthening economic growth and resilience. This is at the heart of economic thought: how to best allocate the distribution of scarce resources.

The opening line from the G20 Leaders’ Communique flags the core priority of the G20, and consequently overshadows dilemmas this might bring in addressing issues of development:

Raising global growth to deliver better living standards and quality jobs for people across the world is our highest priority.

Secondly, the Summit is to some extent a forum of theatrics. It is misleading to think the G20 Summit as a dynamic roundtable to discuss all of the issues in detail. There is a lot of preliminary and behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations that take place outside of the limelight to resolve how members of the G20 will orientate their national interest with the agenda for the Summit. It is more than a photo opportunity, and such gatherings are important.

Theatrics serve a purpose, and they also signal what people are keenly focused on. In focusing on one thing, they also steal a lot of the oxygen out of the occasion to more freely discuss a broader range of issues. In Brisbane, the theatrics was mainly seen through the grandstanding of and by Putin around the Ukraine incident. That is signalling how the Ukraine is fast becoming a place of heightened strategic value for leaders to communicate their sovereign will and power. The consequences of this grandstanding will not be immediately clear, but ripple through events that are yet to unfold.

Consequences are important, and the issue that receives the limelight will be at the expense of others that do not get discussed in depth. Obama flagged his theatrics publicly at a university address prior to the G20 to gain most favourable media attention to help sway his agenda.

Thirdly, wording is important and will ultimately drive action. The concluding G20 Leaders’ Communique and supporting documents give guidance for the future. If an issue doesn’t make the list, that would be troubling for those who see it as important. The question becomes one of what concrete and practical action will actually trickle down from this wording? 

The 2014 Brisbane Development Update was quite clear about what that G20 sees as an important priority, quoted here directly from the document:

Our work has continued to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Further, we reaffirmed our strong support for the ongoing intergovernmental efforts in the UN to conclude an inclusive and people-centred post-2015 development agenda and for its effective implementation. We reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to poverty eradication and a coherent approach to sustainable development, which integrates its three dimensions in a balanced manner. We underlined the central imperative of poverty eradication and are committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency. We look forward to the third Financing for Development Conference to be held in Addis Ababa in July 2015. We reaffirmed our commitment to ensure that G20 activities beyond 2015 are coherent with the post 2015 development agenda.

The wording from the G20 Leaders’ Communique shows that this responsibility is one that is for the United Nations to resolve, but one which has the support of the G20 for an ambitious post-2015 agenda: We support efforts in the United Nations to agree an ambitious post-2015 development agenda. The question of how an issue will strengthen economic growth and resilience is important to address to receive more attention.

Fourthly, who actually holds the G20 to account for their words? The declarations made at the conclusion of each Summit are not so much binding as aspirational guidance. The Seoul Consensus for the 2010 G20 Summit shown at the link at the beginning of this blog helped shape this central theme of a human bridge which supports the 10 City Bridge Run. The Seoul Consensus showed its priorities framed in the following statements:

We, the Leaders of the G20, are united in our conviction that by working together we can secure a more prosperous future for the citizens of all countries… The Seoul Consensus complements our commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and focuses on concrete measures … to make a tangible and significant difference in people’s lives.

 

There is consistency between what was written in 2010 and most recently in Brisbane yesterday. This is comforting to know, and no small measure for optimism as we look to address child survival in the context of economic growth and resilience. Recent statements from Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop about embracing a new paradigm of development assistance through looking for innovative ideas is consistent with this as well to build concrete measures to make a tangible and significant difference in people’s lives through improving child survival.

The case for taking action is an ethical issue. It is a good thing to do and the right thing to do, as well as being just. It doesn’t need the imprimatur of the G20 to take action. As global citizens, the outcome from the G20 Summit in Brisbane indicates that the institution is something to be readily engaged with on this issue because we both share a common objective. Opening the conversation with countries from the G20 is an important step towards the Design Forum in 2015.

The face of child survival

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IMG_0266In many respects, for a person who has spent their entire life within the confines of the Western world, the Millennium Development Goals which are soon due to expire can best be measured in images.

IMG_0313The eight MDG are simple and easily defined, which is their best feature.

One of the problems with the MDG has been the need for education of what they actually are. Still today, if you walked down the main street of any capital city of any large Western economy, most people in the street wouldn’t know what you were talking about if you mentioned the MDG.

IMG_0300Too much time and money has been spent explaining and educating these MDG. Most of the publicity campaigns I have seen appeared to look something akin to massive, extravagant, community cake stalls. What outcome was really achieved by all of that?

IMG_0294Like it or not, systemic change requires some degree of education. This is the cost of a new idea.

IMG_0351But here I want to talk about child mortality, the reason behind the 10 City Bridge Run. We are focusing on child survival: the positive side of child mortality.

IMG_0378What does child survival look like? Healthy children. Rather than celebrate it, we take it for granted.

IMG_0283Child mortality largely goes unseen. My friends from Sierra Leone, all who I have met outside of their country in different parts of the world, all are well educated, eloquent, intelligent, and seemingly no different to you or I. There is not a tag around their neck that proclaims they are from the country with the highest rate of child mortality.

IMG_0277This has been one of the failures of the MDG. They have created an image of something created by large NGOs involved in helping to address these problems through a series of well selected photographs to tug at the heart strings and wallets of people in the West who might fund their causes. It becomes the tool for the charity muggers who provide the customer facing face of these organisations as their massive fundraising and messaging campaigns ramp up.

IMG_0261The stories told through these campaigns create a narrative of the issue. The statistics take on a life of their own. ‘What might that look like?’ we ask ourselves in our mind’s eye.

This post is not about trying to fight the system. Rather, it is about celebrating images of healthy children with healthy mothers. That is the work of the 10 City Bridge Run. There is enough misery to go around. Let’s celebrate life instead.

Post 2015 Development Framework

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United NationsThe United Nations General Assembly is meeting again this year, this week.

The agenda, as usual, is full and widely ranging.

Anyone who has ever worked for the United Nations can attest to a shared sense of frustration and optimism about what outcomes might be realised.

Success or failure? Dysfunction and broken beyond repair, or best available outcome with seeking consensus among such a disparate collection of global citizens? The answer to these questions will never be settled, but one thing is for sure is the massive convening power that the United Nations has brought since its inception many years ago on 24 October following the end of the Second World War.

The Millennium Development Goals are an aspirational list of eight objectives unanimously agreed upon by all member states in 2000 to reduce 1990 levels of poverty by two-thirds before 2015. The deadline is next year, and the writing is already on the wall in terms of success that has been achieved.

The result is more than simply a pass/fail scorecard. The goals were always aspirational in nature, but within reach. One of those goals, Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality, is the key focus on the 10 City Bridge Run.

In many cases, there are great stories of progress and success, but the distribution of this is unequally experienced. The results in some countries remains troubling.

Papua New Guinea is one country which is unlikely to meet its stated objectives.

Other countries remain at high levels of poverty, despite being extremely rich in minerals. Sierra Leone has the highest rate of child mortality, but is the biggest producer of diamonds in the world. How can this be? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

My friend Edison, who was a journalist from Sierra Leone, and spent time in jail for his political views, has spent a little bit of time telling me about the background to conflict in the country, and helping me to try to understand why problems there should be so bad. What was the cause of so much ill-health and poverty, I wondered? Now, also with Ebola to contend with.

His answer surprised me. What one thing is the biggest problem?, I asked, expecting him to provide some answer like fresh water, or medicine. “Corruption” he said. “It is the biggest killer, the biggest problem. While corruption is still there, nothing will change.”

The same answer is true to for child mortality. If that is the case, then how to improve the delivery of child survival? This is a question we are hoping to contend with across the next couple of months.

Meanwhile, the United Nations are discussing the Post 2015 Development Framework.

This doesn’t change the fact that child mortality is a problem.

Why does it matter how things are measured beyond 2015? Why not just keep the old MDG and push a little harder?

United Nations is preparing a new sustainable development framework with its member states as the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) will get end in 2015. Speakers also urged to adopt a strong, inclusive and legitimate Post 2015 framework to success the Millennium Development Goals.” But what does this actually mean, or is it just a room full of well-dressed bureaucrats word-smithing a strategic document?

It does matter, and it is not just a word game.

The outcome will need to be focused on rights, transparency, addressing corruption, and a framework that is grounded in sustainability. The question will be whether countries will use their diplomatic jockeying for other issues of a security nature to influence or block resolve and consensus for a strong and cohesive result. It might sound like a lot of hot air, but these will be a guiding strategic tool for the next couple of decades. The work in New York this week is important, make no mistake.

To give an insight into the complexity, here is the extract from a recent press release. You can see from reading this, that the simplicity of eight MDG was remarkable when now looking at the intricacies of competing ethical concerns. All are important, but if it has everything it risks being meaningless, and if it is reduced to a couple of bullet-points, it risks being toothless.

“The post 2015 framework must reinforce international human rights commitments, laws and standards, fight injustice and address how its goals will allow for a progressive realization of rights. It must embrace a rights-based approach to development based on equality, equity and non-discrimination, and ensure the rights of people to participate fully in society and in decision-making, Ahmed Swapan emphasized.

Ahmed Swapan also said that developed countries must comply with their commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) and the unfinished business and they should align and harmonize their activities to avoid competitions and to be refraining from service overlapping. There should also be more transparency and accountability in delivering services to the communities for whom development is meant.

Pratima Paul Majumder said that United Nations must emphasize women rights in the Post 2015 development framework. She also demanded that government should include gender equality and women rights as priority area in new framework. The post 2015 framework must recognize the global resource constraints and aim at a more equitable distribution of resources, including how it meets the rights and needs of future and present generations.

She urged to ensure decent work environment and living wages for the women labour. She questioned the present mode of corporate based development which is unfavorable for realization of women rights. This model has particularly worsen life and livelihood of rural, indigenous and migrant women.

The Post-2015 framework must be underpinned by the strongest, most robust and comprehensive accountability framework possible, incorporating the commitment to monitor and report on progress and share learning and knowledge.

Alison Subrata Baroi focused on reducing inequality within and among countries which is essential for transformation while he proposed for ensuring progressive taxation and tax governance as a way out of challenges mobilizing own resources for financing development in post 2015. Alison also said that the Post-2015 framework cannot afford an approach that promotes growth at all costs without considering human rights and environmental implications. The framework must demonstrate coherence and integration across the environmental, economic and social dimensions of different goals and targets. He also emphasized access to justice and governance that should be enshrined in Post 2015 framework.”

Ban Ki-moon: Connected, united

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English: Ban Ki-moon 日本語: 潘基文
English: Ban Ki-moon 日本語: 潘基文 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few short months after the conclusion of the Second World War, the United Nations was formed on 24 October, the anniversary of today.

Do anniversaries really mean anything to anyone anymore?

What about the United Nations? A colossal failure and bureaucratic mess? Or is it a critical international place of important convening?

I have had my own first hand experience working with the United Nations in many different capacities, but perhaps most significantly was as the Lead Operations and Plans Officer for the Australian Defence Force while deployed into East Timor.

Certainly, it is not a perfect organisation, but would the world be better off without it? I think not.

Far beyond an instrument of global security, the United Nations focuses across a broad range touching every aspect of the human experience.

The one area this blog focuses on is the eight Millennium Development Goals signed by all 192 Member States in 2000 to reduce  extreme poverty levels to two-thirds of the recorded levels in 1990 by 2015. It has been one area where there has been some success. It is not a perfect story: child mortality remains improved, but only reduced to half of the recorded levels of 1990, and so the aspiration to achieve a two-thirds reduction by 2015 might be unobtainable.

Work remains to be done. And it is not for us to sit back and criticise the United Nations. We must put our shoulder to the wheel also.

Ban Ki-moon’s words today in his United Nations Day Message for 2013 was fitting:

We continue to show what collective action can do. We can do even more.

In a world that is more connected, we must be more united.

This is the sentiment of the 10 City Bridge Run. To build a human bridge between ourselves to help address the problems we face. Together we can make a difference.