As the Millennium Development Goals are coming to an end, international actors have started working on a new set of development goals for the global community. Last time around, the majority of the inputs came from institutions in the North. Will the voice of Southern actors be heard this time?

- The Millennium Development Goals are one of the rare international paradigms which have worked. It has found its place in the intellectual history of the United Nations. The MGDs have been successful because they are simple, measurable, and communicable and have had international support. They have also benefitted from the fact that the UN Millennium Declaration behind the goals had broad political support, says Debapriya Bhattacharya, Chair of the Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals.

As the Millennium Development Goals approach the finish line, it is time to take stock. At the Rio+20 conference in June 2012, the UN member states launched a process to develop a new set of universal development goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Given the uneven delivery record of the MDGs in the low-income developing countries, there is a huge “unfinished agenda”, particularly in terms of elimination of extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

At the same time, the world has changed significantly since 2000. Thus the current debates also have to address emerging global issues such as the impacts of climate change and financial crisis. The question is how will the post-2015 framework incorporate specific concerns of the vulnerable economies in a universal framework of post-MDG international development goals, i.e. in the SDGs?  


MDGs avoiding tricky questions

-One of the disquieting features of the MDGs had been that they are embedded exclusively in a human development paradigm. They do not thus provide economic growth, productive capacity and employment as target indicators. Moreover the global partnership aspects were the “weakest links”. Working with the new goals, the Southern Voice focuses precisely on these issues. We want to explore how we can make structurally transform our economies by creating more gainful employment of our people, says Bhattacharya. Access to technology is of paramount importance to increase the productive capacity of the low income- and middle income countries.

He argues that the MDGs lack of a macroeconomic framework stems from the fact that these issues have been traditionally addressed by the IMF and World Bank. But without some guidance regarding public finance, it will be difficult to grapple with the challenges implementation of the new goals at the national level.

-       Shaping of the SDGs in the coming months will be greatly influenced by the nature and pace of the economic recovery in the developed countries   environment, he says.

If the economies of the USA, Euro Zone, Japan and other developed countries continue to falter, opportunities for greater market access for goods and services from the low income countries remain limited. In these circumstances, inflow of foreign direct investment and foreign aid to the low income countries may also become constrained.

Interestingly, there are new actors in the global development delivery. The emerging South-South cooperation is a case in point. Thus, the leaders in the global South will have to carry some of the burden of a new global development programme. At the same time, mobilization of domestic taxes in the developing countries will play an important role in financing development programmes in the years to come, says Bhattacharya.

A compass for development cooperation

This is a critical moment for the works on shaping post-MDG international development goals including the SDGs. In May–June 2013, five major reports providing inputs to this process are being published. The Open Working Group (OWG), created at the Rio+20 Conference, is also in session in New York.    

-We are now at a stage where all the public consultative initiatives are gradually coming to an end and the inter-governmental mechanisms are taking over the process. The Southern Voice is currently strategically engaging at various levels to channel their intellectual inputs, says Bhattacharya.

He recalled that on the earlier occasion, in developing the MDGs, about 80 percent of the inputs came from the institutions located in the North. This time around, the Southern Voice seeks to address this “knowledge asymmetry” - which is an expression of a deeper “global power asymmetry”.

The Southern actors, particularly the think tanks located in Global South have a comparative advantage being involved in evidence-based policy research and analysis at national level. They have experienced what has worked and what has not during the last decade during implementation of MDGs.

-We need new ambitious and smart goals as a compass for international development cooperation in the coming years. The Southern Voice is making efforts to influence this process by bring national perspectives to global discourse and interpreting global agenda in the national context, says Bhattacharya.


* The Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals is a network of 48 think tanks from South Asia, Africa and Latin America, contributing to the post-2015 dialogue and providing input for the new SDGs. It is chaired by Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya.

*Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya is Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Dhaka. He is also a former Bangladesh Ambassador to WTO and the UN Office in Geneva.

*Bhattacharya recently visited CMI as part of the institutional research collaboration between CMI and the CPD. The research collaboration is funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Bangladesh.