Is it just about the goals?

By Ming Hwee Chong, Bahá'í International Community

The outcome document of Wednesday’s Special Event “Towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) called for the adoption of “a single framework and set of Goals” at a Summit in September 2015.

This decision to put the forthcoming post-2015 development agenda under one framework is a significant step. A strong set of new goals will no doubt provide broad strategic guidance for development policy and programmes. Yet it is important to keep in mind that this agenda does not encompass the totality of development.

In recent years, these and other UN initiatives have focused on increasing the efficacy of the international community’s approach to development. Even as we bend our energies to support these efforts, it is helpful to maintain perspective that they are but a part of a longer-term process. It is a process by which we continue to advance together in our understanding of development. 

Consider how different the landscape is today – both geopolitically and conceptually – from what it was 13 years ago when the MDGs were articulated. For example: the lines between “developed” and “developing” countries have blurred. The categories of “North” and “South” don’t adequately capture today’s geopolitics. The number of actors in national and global affairs has increased exponentially. And the inter-relatedness of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of development has become well recognised, as has the indivisibility of development, security and human rights.

Furthermore, we know that development can’t be done on behalf of others, and the limits of the “planner” mentality in policy and programming are clear. We understand that attempts to advance human wellbeing are most relevant, legitimate and sustainable when the people whose lives are being impacted, are empowered to be true protagonists of their own development –identifying problems, devising solutions, determining means of implementation, choosing criteria for evaluation, and drawing on these insights for future actions. The manner in which the UN has thus far approached the articulation of the post-2015 agenda, is in many ways informed by this growing understanding of the nature of development.

This collective understanding continues to evolve. The framework and goals to be adopted by the UN and its Member States will be a milestone in this unfolding process. But it is not the be-all and end-all of development. As people become empowered – individually and collectively – as protagonists of their lives, their actions constitute the heart and soul of development.  At every turn, our experience grows, capacity is built, knowledge is generated, and our understanding is advanced. 

This long-term perspective also requires that we continually ask ourselves, “What are we working towards?” Beyond the parameters of a single development agenda, what kind of a world do we want to live in? Thinking about development, then, is an exercise of the collective imagination – working together to generate a vision and to bring about something that does not yet exist, something we have not yet experienced. This is the essence of the collective conversation. We can enrich this conversation by helping to create the conditions whereby each one of us can be part of it, until each one can exercise their right and responsibility to participate in the construction of a better world. This too is a worthy goal.