2010 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development: The Agenda

Keynote Address by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the 2010 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development: The Agenda

Mr. Henry Tang Ying-yen, Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong,
Distinguished delegates,
Members of civil society and academia,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today to open this Joint Conference on Social Work and Social Development.

I wish to begin by thanking the welfare sector and government of Hong Kong (SAR) government for hosting this important event. The Hong Kong SAR government has pioneered important programmes in social development, including its public education system, public housing, and health services, among others. These programmes offer meaningful lessons for participants to share.

I also want to give special thanks to the International Association of Schools of Social Work, the International Council on Social Welfare, and the International Federation of Social Workers for inviting me here.

Relationships between these organizations and the United Nations began decades ago. They were among the first non-governmental organizations to acquire consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. For more than half a century, they have made strong contributions to UN achievements in social progress.

You, as its members here today, have enriched the work of the United Nations in the social field with your expert knowledge and on-the-ground experience. On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want to take this opportunity to thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here because of a shared belief that we can change our societies for the better. At international forums like these, we bring attention, including media attention, not only to what we do as international institutions but also to the plight of the poor and vulnerable members of society. We exchange best practices on the most efficient ways to help people lead safe, productive lives free of hunger, unemployment and poor health.

It is exciting and gratifying for me to see the number of people who are here in the name of these common values and goals. The geographical diversity here is also inspiring. Plenary speakers hail from Uruguay, Slovenia, Ethiopia, Israel, New Zealand, Japan, China, the United States, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sweden, to name just a few places. I understand that there are more than 2,500 participants who have come from more than 110 countries, literally all corners of the world.

You represent an astounding range of expertise in the field of social work and development. There are psychologists and social workers who specialize in domestic violence, trauma, and substance abuse. There are NGO representatives who provide food, clothing, education and safe spaces to women and children. There are professors of social work who teach the world’s youth how to improve society and not just “get ahead” in terms of material gains. There are government ministers who manage budgets for social welfare systems. And we have research experts with us who are on the cutting edge of measuring the effectiveness of social programmes.

This breadth and depth of expertise motivates me in my own role as a senior UN official in charge of economic and social affairs. It gives me hope that through our collective efforts we can reduce the staggering levels of poverty, social injustice and exclusion that exist today. I therefore applaud the message of this Conference: Together we build the agenda; Together we face the challenges: Together we thrive.

In the time that I have been privileged to share with you today, I would like to express my thoughts on three inter-related topics. First, I think it is important that we take stock of how the international community has advanced social development in recent years.

Second, I will describe the United Nations’ role in driving these advances.

Lastly, and most importantly, I will describe how you as members of civil society, can become more involved with the work of the United Nations. We need your help at the grassroots levels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, the UN was created in 1945. The Second World War had just ended. The war had killed tens of millions of people and ravaged societies across several continents. With that backdrop, countries came together and created an international body in an effort to, as the preamble of the United Nations Charter says, “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”

A promise to redress social injustices was also enshrined in this preamble.

It says that we are determined:

“to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

Since the time that these words were written into the UN Charter, the Organization has worked with national governments, non-governmental organizations, academia, private businesses and individuals to improve the lives of disadvantaged people.

In 1995, the United Nations convened a pivotal conference on social development in Copenhagen. The World Summit for Social Development, or the Social Summit, was the largest gathering ever of world leaders at that time. My Department served as secretariat for the Summit.

It was a very successful event. I am sure some of the participants today were there as well. Leaders reached a new consensus on the need to put people at the centre of development. They pledged to focus on three core goals in the development paradigm; the eradication of poverty, the promotion of full employment and the fostering of social integration. They adopted a Copenhagen Declaration, ten commitments and a Programme of Action.

Copenhagen brought not only a compassionate vision to the dispossessed and disempowered, but it also set up a framework for societies to move forward.

The United Nations has used this framework, and other internationally-agreed development goals to motivate governments to reorient their priorities and strengthen their social programmes. At follow-up conferences held by the UN in 2000 and in 2005, we identified uplifting signs of progress, as well as disturbing gaps and roadblocks.

I would like to share some of these findings with you. I will describe them in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which encapsulate the outcomes of several past UN summits, including the goal of poverty eradication from the Social Summit.

I have also chosen to focus on the MDGs, as the UN – together with its global partners – is approaching a critical High-level event at the 65th session of the General Assembly this September. This MDG Summit is expected to galvanize action in order to advance progress in achieving the MDGs in the remaining five years, to 2015.

As many of you know, the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, were approved by nations in 2001. These eight quantifiable, time-bound goals with their 21 quantifiable targets address extreme poverty, hunger and disease, gender equality, education, environmental sustainability and global partnerships. They are also an expression of basic human rights: the rights of everyone to good health, education and shelter.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There has been significant progress on some of the health-related MDGs.

The number of deaths among children under five years of age, for example, has been reduced from 12.5 million per year in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2008. This reflects an overall trend seen in the latter half of the 20th century. Revolutionary advances in medicine and technology, supported by targeted policy measures, have increased survival rates for children.

The least developed countries, however, still face challenges: one in 8 children dies before age five in those nations. So while there has been some good progress on child health, an unacceptably high number of children still enter the world with far too many odds against them. In my own country, China, childhood mortality has been cut dramatically in the past 60 years. In 1950, one in every three children died before age five. Today, that has changed to one in fifty.

There have been achievements on Goal number 6 – which summons us to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

The number of people in low- and middle-income countries who received antiretroviral therapy for HIV increased 10-fold between 2003 and 2008. The number of new HIV infections declined by 30 per cent between 1996 and 2008.

Deaths from measles have been reduced. Malaria and tuberculosis are better controlled due to interventions from medical and social development organizations. Over 200 million mosquito nets were delivered to African countries between 2004 and 2009 Another 140 million nets, however, need to be distributed to achieve universal access.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Along with these successes in health care, there has also been excellent progress in increasing access to universal primary education. Since 2000, many developing countries have reached the 90 percent enrolment threshold. Enrolment has increased fastest in sub-Saharan Africa where it was at 58 percent in 2000 and increased to 74 per cent in 2007.

Furthermore, the gender gap in primary school enrollment has narrowed in the past decade. In 2007, 95 girls of primary school age were in school for every 100 boys. That compares to 91 girls for every 100 boys in 1999.

There are many obstacles to overcome, however, before all children in the world are able to exercise their human right to an education. More than 72 million children of primary school age are not in school. About half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Around 126 million children across the world are involved in hazardous work. They are missing out on expanding their minds and healthy childhoods.

The MDGs I’ve mentioned so far have seen the most progress. We recognize, however, that this success is not just reflected in numbers; it also has to be measured in terms of social inclusion. This is where the contributions of social workers and practitioners are most important. The work you do to support individuals and to strengthen families and communities, by increasing resilience and solidarity is fundamental to achieving those improved statistics.

Findings related to progress, or rather, lack of progress, about other Millennium Development Goals are alarming. Progress on poverty reduction, for example, has been uneven and is now threatened. Prior to the recent food and fuel crises, the developing world had seen a reduction in the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day – thanks in large part to progress in China and India.

When data from China is not included, the news is not encouraging. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of people living in extreme poverty went up by about 36 million. The number of “$1 a day poor” went up by 92 million in sub-Saharan Africa and by 8 million in West Asia.

The food and fuel crises, compounded with the financial crisis have made the situation worse.

Targets related to employment have also been drastically offset. Over 300 million new jobs will need to be created over the next 5 years just to return to pre-crisis levels of unemployment.

Goal 3 – gender equality – has also been set back by the recent crises. In many countries, when there is grave economic instability women suffer disproportionate job losses. Their chances of getting an education diminish and the likelihood that they will suffer domestic violence increases.

Members of civil society and academia,

There is no doubt that achieving the Millennium Development Goals is a daunting task. I know that the statistics on child deaths and poverty rates I just cited can be discouraging and depressing. At times, the challenges and problems we face are overwhelming to me as well.

But giving up is not an option. Failure is not an option. Our world possesses the knowledge, the resources and the expertise for achieving the MDGs. We need to muster the political will, mobilize financial and human resources and help developing countries implement programmes and develop relevant national development strategies.

The United Nations has done so on several fronts.

First, we have kept the spotlight on MDGs by campaigning and mobilizing action from all nations. Indeed, my keynote speech today is such an occasion.

Second, we monitor the trends and progress in implementation of the Goals. The Statistical Division of my Department, working with over 20 UN entities, publishes an annual MDG report to track implementation of the MDGs and related targets.

Third, we go beyond monitoring by analyzing the gaps in implementation. My Department plays a key role in sharing lessons learned and best practices among governments, NGOs and civil society groups.

Fourth, the United Nations system supports governments in implementing MDG-centered development strategies. Staff members from UN agencies are working around the clock on country-level initiatives.

The World Food Programme, for instance, will deliver food assistance to about 90 million people in 73 countries this year. Right now, assistance is being delivered in Haiti, Niger and Myanmar, to name just a few places.

Advances in medicine and medical technology have made mass vaccinations possible. Recently, in just one week, UNICEF and WHO enabled 60,000 Haitian children under age five to receive life-saving immunizations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite our progress, there are enormous challenges ahead. Our goal is to halve the number of people whose income is less than $1 dollar per day by 2015. That would be a great accomplishment. But what about the other half of the world population that live in such extreme poverty? We need to start thinking beyond the MDGs so that the world mobilizes to help all people.

With 21st century medicine and technologies, combined with the political will of governments to implement internationally-agreed goals, and commitment from you, social workers and development experts, we have the tools and the human resources needed to help the poor and disenfranchised to radically change their lives.

In this last part of my speech I would like to share some ideas on how you, the social work community, can help the UN meet the challenges and seize the opportunities.

First of all, I would like to acknowledge that this conference itself is of extremely high value to the UN. The way that your three organizations have decided to hold joint conferences and develop joint agendas is exactly the type of support we need from civil society.

As you develop the New Agenda, please align your targets and goals, wherever possible to those of the Millennium Development Goals. There are just 4.5 years left until 2015, our agreed deadline for achieving the Goals.

Also, please consider the values and objectives of our other frameworks such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. How can you build upon these frameworks? The UN has produced an astonishing body of work and internationally-agreed goals and I invite you to use them as your foundation.

I see that your conference themes address economic and social development. Please focus on how to make linkages between these two spheres in your New Agenda. This is crucial to, as the Charter states, “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

There are two basic approaches in this regard. The first is market-oriented in which social development is expected to naturally occur out of economic growth. The other is a people-centred approach in which states integrate social and economic policies and actively pursue social objectives. The Copenhagen agenda and the MDGs reflect the people-centred approach. They recognize that economic growth, promoted through market-oriented approaches is essential but it is not sufficient to achieve development. These agendas acknowledge that development can only truly be measured in terms of real improvements in people’s lives.

May I take a moment here to acknowledge Hong Kong’s economic and social achievements. Although Hong Kong is often portrayed as the epitome of a free-market or laissez-faire economy, it has a strong social security system. So strong, in fact, that it helped its people avoid some of the worst impacts of regional and global financial crises.

Please also consider how you can tie in sustainable development initiatives with your economic and social planning. Let there be no mistake – sustainable development is not just about the environment. Sustainable development encompasses three pillars – social and economic, as well as environmental.

How can you make linkages to “green” or environmentally sound policies and programmes? How can you weave the importance of recycling, clean water into your targets? The United Nations is a driving force in sustainable development and we need your input on the social development pillar and support at the national levels to advance it.

In 2012, the United Nations will convene a global summit on sustainable development in Brazil, called Rio+20. I have been designated the Conference Secretary-General. Let me take this opportunity to invite your organizations to contribute to the success of the Conference.

Ladies and gentlemen,

You can also assist our Organization in its communications and promotional efforts. The UN carries out a tremendous number of initiatives each year, throughout the world on a wide range of issues. There are dozens of “commemorative days”, for example, during which a specific topic is publicized. The World Health Organization coordinates activities for World Mental Health Day, held each October 10. There is an International Youth Day, an International Day of Families, a Day of the African Child, International day for the Eradication of Poverty and an International Day of Older Persons along with many others. UN offices throughout the world organize outreach activities – such as student conferences, film screenings, and art contests – to raise awareness and to promote the importance of these topics in the collective conscience.

We invite your help on these initiatives. How can your respective organizations help raise awareness of these issues? What type of UN information on human rights or gender equality could be useful to your clients? What type of event would garner support in your communities and cultures about the need to end domestic violence? I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this grassroots work. If you can ignite support in your local and regional communities about needing to end violence against women, for example, then you have started to pave the way for future legislative action and change.

Finally, the time and effort you give to the three social development organizations that have created this event are also invaluable to the United Nations. Representatives of the IASSW, ICSW and IFSW speak on your behalf each year at the Commission for Social Development and the Economic and Social Council in New York. Their presentations, written submissions and participation in expert-group meetings have contributed to the overall achievements of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and to the UN at large.

Please ask yourselves how you can be more involved with these organizations. How can they help fight for the needs of your clients? How can you contribute your time in small ways so that they can become mo

re powerful organizations in your countries? What fresh, dynamic ideas can you offer them? The more time, research, feedback and advice you can give them, the stronger their voices will be in UN forums and the more change they will effect.

May I also add that the United Nations could use your assistance in reaching out to NGOs in southern countries. Most of the NGOs that have consultative status with the UN are from developed countries in the North. I think the same pattern might be present at this conference. How can we work together to bring southern NGOs into forums like this one, to give them greater voice? They would benefit so much from your experiences and knowledge.

Members of civil society and academia,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As I said at the beginning, it is truly a pleasure to be here today. I really mean this. This is the first civil society gathering abroad that I have attended in my capacity as Under-Secretary-General. I have attended so many inter-governmental conferences. You know, there is no shortage of high-level summits and meetings and there is no dearth of declarations and programmes of action.

You, however, as a group of social workers and social development experts are truly a special audience. You work with the poor, the voiceless, the disenfranchised. Too often, you are not properly acknowledged. I wish to state, here and now, that the United Nations recognizes your contributions, day by day and village by village, to achieving the lofty development goals established in UN conference rooms in New York. Thank you.

I have described some of the ways that we can work together to promote social development. I am sure that there are many others and I invite you to brainstorm about them – both here in Hong Kong and when you return to your home countries.

The more we work together on eradicating poverty and redressing social injustices, the more likely we are to succeed. The United Nations needs you.

Thank you again for inviting me here. I wish you a successful conference.