The HLP: hearing from the people?

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So the UN High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda has reported. How did it fare in the turmoil of civil society responses?

Timorese villagers discuss income from natural gas industry

Child advocates found much that reflected the priorities of children, many put forwards by children themselves. Particularly important was the recognition that children and young are subjects, not objects, of development.

Likewise, transparency campaigners (CAFOD included) were pleased by a proposed goal addressing good governance and effective institutions – a big step forwards from the MDGs.

Disability advocates have welcomed the report as a huge win because it makes a commitment to all people, specifically those with disabilities, both in the narrative and the goals.

For environmental organisations, it’s a mixed bag, with some welcoming the moment to bring together (finally!) environment and development, while others lamented the lack of concrete steps and agreed timelines.

For the inequalities crowd, particularly those focusing on income, the report didn’t hit the jackpot with no standalone goal to address vast and increasing gulf between richest and poorest around the world.

Participate, the global initiative delivering in-depth participatory research with people in poverty and marginalisation, agreed with the people-centred agenda, but needs to see citizens more at the fore – particularly as we move into the intergovernmental processes. Funny how people often get forgotten…

So far, so good.

What’s interesting is how warm the reception has been overall. While some have legitimately pointed out the weaknesses in the report (I for one would have liked to see something much stronger on bringing environment and development together, and its vision of economic development is business as usual, and how on earth is this going to be financed?), in general the report has been well-received.

Why is this?

While the consultations weren’t perfect, there’s little doubt that the High Level Panel threw themselves into engaging with civil society. They reference nearly 1,000 written inputs, with some 5,000 civil society organisations taking part in discussions at some point. I wouldn’t be able to absorb that much information, let alone process it into some coherent narrative for post-2015 development.

What are the lessons that can be drawn from this?

Recently, it’s been difficult to come to make progress in multilateralism, especially on some of the more complex issues. Two that immediately come to mind are climate change and trade.

The point that I want to make here is that including people is what the UN is meant to be about. It’s slogan is a jaunty ‘welcome – it’s your world!’ or whatever that translates to in your language of choice (well, officially recognised UN language).

Its charter opens with ‘we the peoples…’ Not ‘we the governments’, nor ‘we the corporations.’

As we move into the difficult stages over political horse-trading in the intergovernmental negotiations, without a clear roadmap to lay out the process, the UN should do its best to open up the doors and let the people in. If it wants an agenda that resonates with people and has meaning in the lives of the poorest and most marginalized, then it needs to put them in the driving seat.

Focus group from an informal settlement in Mozambique. Would they see their lives reflected in the HLP report?

Focus group from an informal settlement in Mozambique. Would they see their lives reflected in the HLP report?

Two suggestions that will help the UN and member states do this:

  1. Agree a clear process in September so we, the people, can get on with our post-2015 lives and throw ourselves into contributing to the process with joy and not into the Hudson River in frustration because no one knows who or when decisions are being made, and
  2. Write a clear entry point for people living in poverty into that process so that the post-2015 framework legitimately responds to their needs and aspirations.

Imagine what response we’d get if the post-2015 agenda was created through participation, not just consultation.

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