Finishing the job of ending extreme poverty

High level panel meeting
Lisa Horner
By Lisa Horner: November 8th, 2012

This is no small task.  But it’s what David Cameron and fellow members of a High Level Panel of eminent people promised to focus on when they met in London last week.  The Panel has been appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advise him on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015.

Look at any poverty reduction policy or research document produced by the UN or donors in the last few years and it’s likely to contain a reference to the MDGs.  Since they were established at the turn of the century, the MDGs have influenced how the international community thinks about and does development- focusing attention on a set of eight ambitious poverty reduction goals that world leaders committed to meeting by the end of 2015.

Given the traction that the MDGs have had, the post-2015 process is very important.  It’s expected to set the priorities that will guide international efforts to overcome poverty over the next decade and beyond, determining what issues receive the most attention and how we should tackle them.  Shaping these priorities is a hugely significant job that can’t be left to 26 people sitting in a room in London, no matter how “high level” they are.

So we were relieved when we heard that the Panel was keen to consult broadly with people that have different expertise and experience to bring to the table.  The UN itself is also holding a series of consultations, and has promised to do what it can to make sure these are as broad and inclusive as possible.

We were even more pleased when VSO partner Francess Fornah, head of a midwifery school in Sierra Leone, was selected as one of 30 civil society representatives to take part in a roundtable discussion with the Panel in London.  As Francess herself blogged on the Guardian website, it’s critical that the post-2015 framework is shaped by people who really know what works and what doesn’t in the global fight against poverty because they tackle it themselves on a day to day basis. It’s great that Francess had the chance to talk to the Panel.  We just hope that they take her inputs on board in their final report.

The noises coming out from the Panel are so far positive.  They’ve promised to focus on poverty eradication, and to tackle its root causes rather than just its symptoms.  They’re meeting three more times – in Liberia, Indonesia and the USA – before they present their recommendations to Ban Ki-moon next spring.  There’ll still be a lot more workr to do after this, and plenty of intergovernmental negotiation before a final framework is agreed in 2015.

VSO will be keeping a close eye on this process.  We’ll be pushing for a new framework that will help to spur long lasting change for the world’s poorest and most marginalised people (see the submission we made to the UK Parliament for more detail).  In a nutshell, we’re calling for two main things:

Firstly, we want to see a framework that recognises the contribution that thousands of community health workers, outreach workers, volunteers, teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs are making to tackling poverty in their own communities on a daily basis. These people must not be treated as passive beneficiaries of aid, but as active partners who must be involved in both designing and implementing the new framework.

Secondly, the framework must recognise that women suffer disproportionately from poverty, and that equality between men and women is a critical foundation for more just, healthy and vibrant societies.  We need to harness the opportunity of the post-2015 process to make sure that women who are most affected by poverty have more control over decisions that affect them and can make their voices heard in public life.

We need your help with this.  You can feed your concerns and ideas into the UN consultations via the World We Want website, and watch this space to find out how you can tell the High Level Panel what issues they should prioritise when they next meet in Liberia early next year.

Let’s hold Cameron and his colleagues to their ambitious but important promise – to build a global framework that enables us to be the generation that finishes the job of ending extreme poverty once and for all.

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