The twenty years since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have seen a substantial reduction in absolute poverty across the world. However, there has also been an increase in social unrest due to real and perceived inequalities, rising expectations and a persistent feeling of unfairness and exclusion. As a result, the understanding of development has been altered. Poverty and growth are now being seen in terms of broader social objectives that seek to reduce inequalities in both income, as well as, access to basic services and opportunities.
On 4-5 April 2013, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) organized its Global Forum on Development (GFD) at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris, France. The aim of the annual forum, first in a series of three, is to promote a better understanding of what the shifting dynamics of poverty means for governments, international organizations and others in the post-MDG world after 2015. The discussions focused on innovative approaches to poverty reduction, social cohesion and progress. These discussions were preceded by a one-day workshop on inclusive growth on 3 April.
In his discourse as panelist on the second day of the discussions on the theme 'Beyond poverty reduction: The challenge of social cohesion in developing countries', Pierre Jacquet, President of GDN regretted that discussions during global seminars had become "wishful and incantatory." He said that participants were content with making "passionate statements about what 'we should', 'we need', 'we must' consider and do." His objections were based on two counts. Firstly, that the 'we' in the above phrases was actually a 'they' as seminar participants were generally not the main or unique actors in carrying out the actions. Thus, the discussions amounted to talking at length about what others should do. Secondly, the objectives seemed to be so obvious, incontestable and endorsed after repeated discussion that the "real question was not whether 'we' should pursue them, but why they have not been achieved yet." He surmised that if these objectives have not been met, it was because they were not seen as a priority by most of the relevant actors. His recommendation was that global seminars should "focus more on the process of political and social change rather than on desired outcomes."
Pierre Jacquet added that efforts to achieve the objectives could be bolstered by providing "facts and data, and report on experiences, in order to shape a better evidence-based diagnosis, contribute to a better conscience and precisely define the space for action." He explained that a better way to push the agenda is to document various aspects of social exclusion and their costs leaving the final judgment about whether the situation was acceptable or not to local politics. He advocated the involvement of local actors in "data collection and fact finding and their use in the local debates" to make them more credible and convincing. While the role of NGOs was known and emphasized, he iterated that empowering local academics and researchers was also crucial and 'We' as actors could help by building their capacity.
In closing, his central message was that participants in discussions on global seminars should, instead of being prescriptive, focus on conscious and deliberate action that promotes empowerment and ownership, and understand that the governance of globalization needed to be anchored on local and regional politics.
Pierre Jacquet's session was moderated by Duncan Green, Senior Strategic Adviser, Oxfam Great Britain. The other panelists were Alan Hirsch, Professor and Director, Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice, University of Cape Town, South Africa; Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Minister of Women and Children Affairs, Bangladesh; and Trinh Cong Khanh, General Director of Ethnic Minority Policy Department, Committee of Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA), Viet Nam.
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Read Pierre Jacquet's views on the post-2015 debate in his guest post for Duncan Green's Oxfam blog From Poverty to Power