Helen Clark, Administrator (Chief Executive) of the United Nations Development Programme and Chair of the UN Development Group, one of the most senior UN officials and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, participated in a ‘conversation’ about the review of the Millennium Development Goals at a meeting in the Overseas Development Institute in London on 12 February 2013. She joined in a discussion with an invited audience of around 100 people, including former IFSW President David N Jones.
Helen Clark presented a wide-ranging overview of the post-MDG process led by the United Nations. She stressed the need to link poverty reduction and sustainable development in one process.
Helen Clark stated that the Millennium Declaration still stands as a credible vision of the world we seek. However there is a need to promote wider ownership of the post MDG arrangements.
Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development
Helen Clark helped to launch The Global Agenda when she spoke at Social Work Day in the United Nations in March 2011. She spoke again at UN SWD in 2012. On both occasions she welcomed The Global Agenda process and referred to the consistency between The Global Agenda and the UN’s objectives. This was also evident in this meeting, with the core themes emerging from the review of the MDGs being entirely consistent with the themes identified by IFSW, IASSW and ICSW in The Global Agenda consultation and Commitments.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have seen some successes, for example significant reductions in mortality rates associated with some medical conditions, but there has been disappointing progress in other areas and some groups feel excluded from the whole process, such as people with disabilities. Helen Clark suggested that there have been improvements in primary school attendance, but there is considerable evidence that the quality of teaching has been very inconsistent and some of those children are not benefitting from school.
Helen Clark said that is important that the people of the world are engaged in this conversation. There are UN supported consultations in around 80 countries. The MDGs were launched after minimal consultation, she suggested, even if drawing on a substantial research and evidence base. That top-down approach would not be a credible process again, which is why the UN is actively encouraging wide participation.
The Post 2015 group has already reported to the UN with its first thoughts. A key finding from consultation is that global averages and global reporting do not give the whole story. Some groups are hidden in such reporting and have not benefitted from development. She suggested people with disabilities are one such group.
The UN will publish a report in mid-March 2013 on emerging global themes. This event anticipates some of the issues to be raised in that report. All the background data will be made available on line together with analytical tools to enable people to make their own analysis. National consultations will be finishing in 2013, the High Level process chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron comes to to an end in May 2013. There will be a UN ECOSOC debate in July and in September the UN General Assembly will review progress. The final Open Working Group report will be published in mid-2014 and the UN member states will be asked to approve the new development goals in September 2014.
It was suggested that some agreement seems to be emerging about the top priorities for the next phase after 2015. Reducing poverty and ensuring sustainability (green issues) are key issues and must be taken together, she argued. Other issues include improving governance, building community resilience and economic growth and employment. She noted that the International Labour Organisation has found that one third of people in extreme poverty already have some form of paid employment but with very low pay. She stressed the importance of rules and regulations about employment to protect workers and supported the ILO campaign for ‘decent work’.
Helen Clark observed that in 2015, when the MDGs come to an end, there will still be 1 billion living in extreme poverty and the gap between richer and poorer has grown wider. There has been very uneven achievement in reducing inequality. Minority groups also report that their inequality is hidden within the global statistical averages. She said there is a need for more focus on disaggregated data on the impact of development in terms of gender, race, religion and minority groups. She asked whether there be a specific global target for gender equality and whether there should be a specific target related to reducing gender based violence. She noted that some are suggesting that there should be a more ambitious global target for the reduction of all violence in civilian situations.
Helen Clark concluded that the outcome must be a strong agenda which reflects the aspirations of the Millennium Declaration – integrating development, health, education and environmental issues.
IFSW is contributing to the UN review of the MDGs and welcomed the direction mapped out by Helen Clark. ‘The Global Agenda for Social Work has been built from the experience of social workers and reflects community realities around the world’, said David N Jones, the IFSW President’s Special Representative on The Agenda, after he had participated in the conversation with Helen Clark.
The 4 Global Agenda themes are ‘Promoting social and economic equalities’, ‘Promoting the dignity and worth of peoples’, ‘Working toward environmental sustainability’ and ‘Strengthening recognition of the importance of human relationships’. All these themes are reflected in the consultation on the post-MDG objectives.
World Social Work Day 2013 is focussing on Promoting social and economic equalities. These themes will also be explored in the 2014 global conference in Melbourne, Australia, which comes shortly before the UN member states decide the post-MDG objectives. The conference will debate the first overview report from the Global Observatory on Social Work and Social Development on social and economic equality.
‘We recognise the key issues emerging from the UN consultation and identified by Helen Clark’, David Jones continued, ‘and our Global Agenda Commitments – with our partners – inspire us to gather the evidence from social workers which will support our shared objectives and which we will feed into the UN global and regional processes’.
See related speeches by senior UN officials at recent IFSW events
A conversation with Helen Clark – ODI, London – February 2013 – video with questions and discussion