For much of last week, I felt like I was shuttling between two different planets.
On the one, I watched the devastation of people and homes and lives, until I could hardly think there is any good left in the world. Iraq; Syria; Nigeria; Libya; Ferguson, Missouri – so many places seem to be engulfed by hatred and violence. The world seems to be coming apart, in these accounts.
But on the second “planet,” I was hearing the voices of millions of people planning to eradicate poverty by 2030 and transform the way the world into a more just and peaceful society, in harmony with each other and our planet. This, too, is a facet of the world we live in – and a far larger part than the one we see on the news.
The 65th Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): “2015 and Beyond: Our Action Agenda” brought more than 2,000 delegates from 902 NGOs based in 117 countries to the United Nations on September 27, 28 and 29. All these people gathered to share what they and the people they represent want to accomplish in the fifteen years 2015-2030. Millions more – including me – watched on the UN WebTV, many offering recommendations on Facebook and Twitter during the conference.
The Conference gathered our recommendations to the Member States (our governments) who will begin to consider the Post-2015 Agenda later this month.
You may remember that, in 1999, the 193 Member States of the United Nations pledged themselves to eight Millennium Development Goals, with the ultimate purpose of cutting in half the number of people who had lived in extreme poverty in 1990 by 2015. Many people jeered or despaired – it would never be possible. Well, millions of individuals, NGOs, governmental groups, and international alliances got to work, and (quoting the 2013 Report on the Millennium Development Goals):
“The world reached the poverty reduction target five years ahead of schedule. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. About 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990.”
Of course, much remains to be accomplished – millions of people are still in need of basic necessities, like clean water, simple sanitation, secure food sources, education, shelter and health care. Most of all, violent conflicts still continue to destroy much of what has been done, and prevent further development in a number of places in the world.
But what struck me most during the Conference was the hope and determination of millions of people to change that violence and to restructure society so that everyone can have the basic necessities of life without destroying each other or the planet we depend on. Surely these voices deserve as much air time as the destructive minorities get!
Major Changes in Method
Some of the major changes people want to see were embodied in the process of developing the new Goals.
For instance, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were drafted by a fairly small contingent of people primarily in high positions. They focused on improving life in the poorest developing countries. Each MDG focused on a specific area, such as cutting infant mortality, providing clean water, etc.
In working toward the MDGs, people became aware that, for instance, we cannot address the problem of clean water without addressing the need for local governments to make laws to ensure fair distribution of the water. Technology is needed to find and create sustainable systems for access to water. Farmers, agronomists, business leaders, people living without water all need to be involved. People also saw that every country had populations or systems that need improvement, if all people are to live in peace, with dignity and justice.
So, a whole new paradigm for international negotiation and communication has developed. The scope of it is just breath-taking!
A Million Voices
Originally dubbed “A Million Voices,” multiple ways of engaging people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life were developed. Some of these were “the usual,” like the Thematic Debates (what the UN calls many nations presenting statements of their opinions and experiences on a certain theme – water management and accessibility, for instance) that took place among the Member States at the General Assembly.
To broaden the range of contributions, UN leaders in eighty-eight countries convened National Consultations, asking people from around their countries to share what they believe is needed to improve the world. You can read the results of these national conversation at this link. Various summaries and commentaries are also available.
All kinds of groups were sought out for their insights and needs – the poorest people living in remote areas, disabled persons, young people, elderly people, Indigenous Peoples, peoples whose island homes are already threatened by the rise of sea levels, business leaders, religious leaders, and on and on.
What World Do You Want?
Most ambitious of all is the website “The World We Want.” This site invites everyone in the world to enter his or her recommendations, insights and suggestions! Do take a few minutes to visit this site – although I warn you that you might be intrigued into spending much longer. You can still add your comments and also your Vote on which six of a list of needs are most important to you.
An Open Working Group at the United Nations fielded all the responses, from short Tweets to position papers prepared by advocacy groups. I was part of a group preparing a recommendation for environmental responsibility in creating energy projects. How amazing to participate in a little way in this great project!
The Conference last week pulled all that the NGOs have been hearing from the people we work with and represent into a single Declaration. This Declaration lays out 16 Goals and many sub-targets for action. The interactive nature of that document was astounding to me – the coordinating team worked late into Thursday night to incorporate the new suggestions and insights that people presented at the Conference. On Friday the Declaration was approved by consensus of all attending.
The Declaration will be presented to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who will present it to the General Assembly when the Members States gather later this month. The way to a new future is under way! Be part of it!
This Conference gave me a truly astonishing picture of the hope people have to a better world for everyone. When the newscasts start making me think there is little good in the world, I turn to this document for hope. Which world do we want to build? It is our choice which path we take.