Eliminate Poverty – Sustainable Development

The High-Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda and its secretariat are to be commended and thanked for its report, A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development. The paper is both visionary and realistic, places roles and responsibilities on government, civil society and the private sector, and should appeal to the responsible business person and the practical civic activist – a balance created by the thoughtfulness and comprehensiveness of the framework set forth in the report.

In picking up this report, don’t expect to comprehend it through reading only the executive summary or just focusing on the 12 suggested goals. The report sets out a single, comprehensive framework that needs to be read in its entirety.

From an American perspective, the overall frame reflects our approach to development. For several decades we argued whether development is best promoted through economic growth or human development. This nonsensical debate was finally put to rest with the 2004 legislation creating the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), whose statutory mandate is to pursue poverty alleviation and broad based economic growth – the same as the overarching approach recommended by the High Level Panel.

The report clearly articulates why a single, integrated sustainable development agenda is appropriate:

  • Without ending poverty, we cannot build prosperity.
  • Without building prosperity, we cannot tackle environmental challenges.
  • Without environmental sustainability, we cannot end poverty.

The report makes a careful transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to a new set of global goals. It gives full credit to the power and success of the MDGs and recognizes that 2015 does not close the chapter on them. It further recognizes that the world has dramatically changed since the MDGs were adopted and that they did not at the time nor today represent the full scope of development. So, the new framework continues the important goals of the MDGs and suggests additional ones that more fully incorporate the complexity of development by integrating the range of economic, social, environmental and governance aspects of development.

A close read of the report is required not just because it is the entire framework that must be understood, but also because it is the details that bring it to life and reveal the deep integration of the goals. Further, a quick skim leaves the impression that key ideas are missing – equity, democracy and free enterprise. But a full read reveals that these concepts are incorporated into the framework without using words that are apple pie to Americans, but loaded code words in certain societies.

Equity is not in the suggested goals or indicators, but throughout the framework is the notion of leave no one behind and that every relevant income and social group is to be reached before a goal is considered achieved. More explicitly and importantly, there is appropriate attention to the role of women and girls and the need to end discrimination and violence against them.

The word democracy does not appear, but the elements of democracy do – active civic participation, accountable government, transparency, independent media, freedom of speech and open political choice.  These concepts should make democratic governments and organizations applaud the framework and autocratic governments question their own conduct.

The word free enterprise does not appear, but responsibility is put on governments to respect the rule of law and property rights, and to create the economic and regulatory environment in which enterprise can prosper.

The agenda presented in the report goes beyond assistance to other government policies and responsibilities, in both developed and developing countries, in areas such as trade, taxation, job creation, resolution of conflicts, management of natural resources and illicit capital flows. It is universal in that it applies to all countries and to all elements of society.

The report states that all parties are responsible for monitoring progress in these areas and are accountable for achieving the goals and indicators. In that regard, it appropriately recognizes the critical role of good data and calls for a data revolution to improve the quality of statistics and information, which should be available to all citizens.

It also goes further than prior reports and recommendations, which in recent years have recognized the role of government, civil society and the private sector, to also recognize the critical role of subnational government. It is the lower-level government institutions that often are responsible for the action that counts, such as administering rules and regulations, protecting the environment, creating jobs, educating children, etc.

While the report does set forth 12 illustrative goals, more importantly it identifies the criteria for selecting goals. The criteria for appropriate goals are: strong impact; compelling message; easy to understand; measureable; widely applicable; grounded in the voice of the people; and consensus-based. There will be considerable debate over the next two years as to the right goals and benchmarks, but these criteria seem to be a good place to start in assessing them.

Finally, a central theme of the report is the role of a new global partnership to bring together all elements of society to work together in pursuit of the new set of global goals and targets.

While the vision of eliminating poverty by 2030 will sound unrealistic to many, when you look at the financial resources available – the potential for developing countries to broaden the tax base, the opportunity of all countries to collaborate to reduce tax evasion, the untold rents in the resource extracting industries that are lost to constructive use, successful social support programs and the good jobs created by corporations that have integrated shared value into their business practices – it becomes clear that what is missing is the political will and the right policies and programs.

Hopefully the framework presented by the High Level Panel will create a frame for discussion and collaboration on a new set of global goals and targets that will help create the political will to end poverty in our time.  But don’t take it from me, read the report in its entirety to see its great value.