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MDGs: Promises and actions - It is almost half-time

Henri Valot

Civicus, Global Call to Action against Poverty

27 June 2007

Paper presented at the SARPN policy dialogue: "It is almost half-time": Will the SADC Region Achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the Target Date of 2015?
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Being a staff member of CIVICUS, and part of the Global Team behind the Global Call for Action against Poverty (GCAP)i, I am inclined to limit my contribution to the role and responsibilities of civil society organizations on the MDG agenda. Indeed, CIVICUS is a convenor within civil society and defend and promote civic existence, civic engagement and civic expressionii. CIVICUS also has a track record of constructive engagement with the multilateral institutionsiii. Therefore, CIVICUS utilizes the MDG's as a recognized framework for advancing a more progressive advocacy agenda for social, economic and political justice.

This text presents the engagement of the world of CSOs in the MDG agenda (section 1 and 3). It attempts to take stock of the MDG progress so far (section 2); it discusses some of the key policy questions on financing for development and highlights key policy changes which would enable the attainment of the MDGs (section 4). It then concludes with some directions and tools for the future engagement of CSOs (section 5).

MDG and CSOs

Early, CIVICUS adopted the MDGs agenda, convened CSOs dialogue on it and developed related tools, as an MDG campaigning toolkitiv. But, can we say in 2007 that the MDGs are now part of the CSOs' development agenda? Many of us still consider them as "Minimalist Development Goals" or "Most Distracting Gimmick"v.

CSOs globally did not see the MDGs as their agenda for obvious reasons:

  1. The commitments made at the Millennium Summit betray previous commitments made at international Summitsvi, such as Copenhagenvii and Beijingviii
  2. There was not a single consultation with the CSOs for the elaboration of this development agendaix
  3. It took two years to elaborate the targets and indicators and those appear unacceptable for most of the CSOs
  4. The UN builds around the MDG agenda a multi-stakeholder approach which is for many of us a way to engage the privatisation of public services or to throw the responsibility of public service delivery at CSOs
  5. And for most of us, the MDGs maintain a systematic silence on the learning and experiences of policy reforms and institutional changes. As Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir writes: Evidences suggest that the gap between the rich and the poor, between and within the nations have widened in an unprecedented scale. The blanket privatization, deregulation, liberalization, and competition do not automatically yield prosperity and wellbeing for the nations. The institutions, structure and process that create and sustain poverty are ignored too. They have maintained heightened silence about unequal market power, consolidation of corporate power, restricted migration and access to rich economies, and local political realities (elite capture, under-regulated monopolies, rising global and local inequalities). Hence, to link the MDGs with a particular set of policy prescriptions as has been done in the developing world including Bangladesh is a wrong approach, no matter which policies are prescribed, precisely because there is no single "correct" policy for all societies and circumstances.x
Still, at the time of the War against Terror, one can say that the MDGs are a "revolutionary" agenda. An agenda which can to be taken seriously and that can offer a window of opportunity for CSOs engaged with governments and international organisations.

  1. More at
  2. More at
  3. As the facilitating role of the World Bank-Civil Society Joint Facilitation Committee (JFC), CIVICUS drafted in March 2005 a Discussion Paper on World Bank-Civil Society Engagement: "A Call for Participatory Decision-Making". Kumi Naidoo, SG and CEO of CIVICUS was also part of the UN Expert Panel on the relationship between the UN and Civil Society organisations
  5. MDGs - the Most Distracting Gimmick, Peggy Antrobus, in Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice, Seeking Accountability on Women's Human Rights: Women Debate the Millennium Development Goals, January 2004, accessible at Page 15.
  6. See the summary of this history in Mirjam van Reisen, "The Millennium Development Goals: A reality check on their past, present and future", European External Policy Advisors, for Social Watch, September 2004. Commentary on the pre-2000 history of the MDGs can be found in various editions of the Reality of Aid Reports for 1998, 1999 and 2000 and in Roberto Bissio, "Civil Society and the MDGs", UNDP Development Policy Journal, Volume 3, April 2003.
  7. Quality Benchmarks for the World Summit for Social Development - A Summary of an NGO Statement, September 1994
    1. Ratification of the six core Human Rights Treaties and legal binding obligations of the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the development of an optional protocol for a complaints procedure;
    2. Fundamental revision of structural adjustment policies that deepen social inequality and poverty, with greater accountability of the IFIs to the UN system (ECOSOC);
    3. National and international programs for social development should be assessed explaining what steps are being taken to assist governments to comply with their obligations to economic, social and cultural rights;
    4. Low income countries should receive compensation for losses as a result of the Uruguay Trade Round;
    5. The new trade regime (WTO) should be subject to social audits as well as review by expert bodies on economic, social and cultural rights, including recognition of the right of Nations to establish food and agricultural policies to eradicate hunger and ensure food security;
    6. Governments must take vigorous action to assure that market forces aer not allowed to degrade the community and environment in which they operate, including international monitoring and a code of conduct for the operations of transnational corporations;
    7. Promote the write-off of multilateral debt in Africa and all Low Income Countries;
    8. Achieve the 0.7% UN target for aid and devote at least 50% to a broad range of fundamental human needs;
    9. Establish effective measures to curb the arms race to minimize violent social disintegration;
    10. Governments commit themselves to provide legal and regulatory frameworks for the contribution of different actors so as to involve local, regional and national civil society in social development, including measures to eradicate corrupt practices;
    11. The gender specific aspects of each issue addressed by the Social Summit should be explicitly identified in the policy analysis and commitments taken by the Social Summit, recognizing the central role of women in social and economic development. The Social Summit should draw on the contributions and respect of the unique cultures of people and integrate sustainable indigenous and traditional practices which do not violate women's rights into social development; and
    12. The Social Summit should vest principle responsibility for the monitoring of the commitments undertaken in the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
    Sixty NGOs and national platforms signed, "Quality Benchmarks for the Social Summit" (mimeo) some months before the Social Summit. The Statement sought commitments from governments in the outcomes of the Summit. EUROSTEOP News (Issue 19) published an assessment of the Summit against the Benchmarks. In the words of Oxfam at the time, "The final Declaration and Program of Action, although liberally sprinkled with references to the role of the market and the importance of safety nets, unequivocally state for the first time that macro-economic policy making cannot be divorced from social development and human rights." Patricia Feeney, Oxfam Policy Department, "The Outcome of the World Summit for Social Development", June 1995, mimeo, page 1.

  8. A focus on MDGs as the framework for making progress on poverty may become a set-back for the global agenda for women's empowerment in the 1990s. Women's organizations have pointed to the exclusion from the MDGs of women's sexual and reproductive rights due to the forces of religious fundamentalism in global politics. While women's equality and empowerment will be central to the achievement of the MDGs, few of the targets and indicators are disaggregated by gender. Others have criticized the lack of critical perspective on the impact of neo-liberal economic policies on poor women, emphasizing the importance of legislation protecting the basic labour rights of low-income women.40 Broad goals collapse gender concerns and depoliticize the uneven distribution of power and resources within households. Equality and non-discrimination, along with participation and empowerment, were key human rights principles guiding a comprehensive Platform for Action agreed at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women. These principles may now be marginalized in global initiatives for the achievement of the MDGs, in The Politics of the Millennium Development Goals: Contributing to Strategies for Ending Poverty? Part One: The Politics of MDGs and Poverty Eradication, Brian Tomlinson, Canadian Council for International Cooperation, 2005-05-31 -

  9. The claim is made that the MDGs follow up on the conclusions reached in the cycle of summits organized in the 1990s. That's going a bit too far. The preparatory meetings to these summits had tried something new by organizing assemblies of so-called civil society representatives parallel to the official conferences where only state representatives were seated. Although things had been organized to reserve the best places for the charitable NGO's, which are beneficiaries of financial support from large foundations and states, and largely to exclude popular organizations fighting for social and democratic progress (authentic popular organizations are always poor by definition), the voices of the latter were sometimes heard. In the official conferences themselves, the points of view of the triad and of the South often diverged. It is often forgotten that the triad's proposals were rejected in Seattle not only in the streets, but also by states from the South. It is also important to remember that the reconstruction (or at least the first signs of reconstruction) of a group (if not a front) of the South took place at Doha. All of these divergences were smoothed away by the supposed synthesis of the MDGs. Instead of forming a genuine committee for the purpose of discussing the document, a draft was prepared in the backroom of some obscure agency. The only common denominator is limited to the expression of the pious hope of reducing poverty" in The Millennium Development Goals: A Critique from the South, by Samir Amin

  10. Bangladesh Public Policy Watch 2005, Millennium Development Goals, A Reality Check, Unnayan Onneshan -The Innovators,

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