Speakers called for stakeholder collaboration and innovative approaches to encouraging inclusion in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, as the Economic and Social Council held a special meeting on participation in development today.
“To build and maintain sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies, we need an interdisciplinary whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approach,” said Marie Chatardová (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council. The interconnected nature and scale of global challenges called for a paradigm shift in response, she added, noting that inclusivity lay at the heart of the 2030 Agenda.
Agreeing, Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, emphasized that the international community must do more to ensure that women and girls were centrally involved in all efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Many times, it was the most vulnerable people that were excluded because of barriers in place, she noted, urging an enabling environment for participation.
Government representatives also added country perspectives on participation and sustainable development. Vladislav Smrz, Deputy Minister of Environment of Czechia, said that his Government had tried to make implementing the Goals as participatory as possible — a demanding process, but a worthwhile one that had helped spread the word about the 2030 Agenda.
Sergio Londoño Zurek, General Director of the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation of Colombia, said that his Government was examining the needs and challenges that the country faced in achieving sustainable development. In that context, it was necessary to address the structural causes of armed conflict and bridge socioeconomic gaps.
Panel discussions throughout the day focused on best practices and innovative policies to facilitate participation and inclusivity, also featuring dialogue with delegates and civil society.
During the first panel, titled “Global trends and emerging issues: Building sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies in a changing world,” Mahmoud Mohieldin of the World Bank Group emphasized the importance of information, noting that “data is the new oil.” Moreover, he called for leveraging and harnessing technology to build inclusivity, noting the impact seen in examples around the world.
However, lack of manpower was a challenge in that regard, noted Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. Only when national Governments gave space to different stakeholders was collaboration in terms of disaggregated data collection possible, she pointed out.
Similarly, local capacity-building was needed in order for technology to foster participation, said Aroon P. Manoharan of the University of Massachusetts in Boston during a second panel, titled “Innovative policy approaches and technologies to foster participation of all”. He also called for greater connectivity infrastructure and global cooperation, citing examples of best practices in the area of city “e-government.”
Also pointing out local examples, Francesco Tena of the Participatory Budgeting Project noted that participatory budgeting was the ideal vehicle to translate global goals to the local level and was the way to scale down the Sustainable Development Goals to make them relevant to the average person. It was important to train local actors so that they could institutionalize the process for themselves, he stressed.
A third panel, titled “Strengthening cooperation for sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies,” concluded the discussion. Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO of BRAVA Investments, said more investment was needed in businesses and solutions that benefited women, not just those with female founders. “Representation is important, but it’s not the only thing,” she emphasized, noting that her company chose sectors based on growth such as consumer products, health care and education sectors.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and Ms. Chatardová made closing remarks.
MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the economic, social and political aspects of marginalization were often interlinked. Societies in which groups were systematically excluded from political or economic life risked reversing hard-won development gains. Thus, it was critical to unpack interlinked uncertainties and identify policy instruments that would have a long-term positive impact and create resilient and inclusive communities. She recalled that prior meetings on the topic had provided platforms to discuss innovative experiences fostering participation as well as decision-making at the local level. At those meetings, participants had agreed that principled business models could make concrete contributions and that academic institutions could play a vital role in providing quality and timely disaggregated data to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals. Recommendations from the meetings also stressed that beyond fostering sustainable development, equal participation in political and public affairs was also a right to be respected and preserved. Promoting participation and inclusion must therefore be bolstered by substantive, long-term and systematic measures, including laws, policies, institutional capacity and data.
She went on to observe that, three years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, concerted efforts were being made to overcome global problems with visible signs of progress. However, the current pace of improvement did not yet live up to 2030 Agenda aspirations. Moreover, the 2017 occurrence of four Category 3 or higher hurricanes in the Atlantic had revealed the destructive capacity of climate change. The interconnected nature and scale of challenges faced called for a paradigm shift in response, she pointed out, adding: “To build and maintain sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies, we need an interdisciplinary whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.” The day’s Special Meeting would seek to explore further collective action in addressing issues of participation and inclusion within the context of the 2030 Agenda. Inclusion was at the heart of that Agenda, which was why it included a target on participatory decision-making, she said.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that the 2030 Agenda was by the people and for the people, and it would only be achieved with the people. A wide range of partners had a stake in its future, she said, stressing: “It is therefore a collective responsibility”. In that connection, all actors across society would have to be engaged for its successful implementation. As intolerance, marginalization and xenophobia were witnessed around the world, efforts must be redoubled to engage and listen to the full spectrum of views across society. Barriers were in place that hindered participation and many times it was the most vulnerable people that were excluded from discussions on the decisions that most affected them. There was a need to foster an enabling environment for participation; one that promoted tolerance to public participation.
Over the past year in particular, women’s movements had been catalysts for important social change, she underscored, emphasizing that the international community must do more to ensure that women and girls were centrally involved in all efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly at the country level. Young people were incredibly motivated about the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she said, yet they were also impatient with those that impeded change. Climate action could unlock vast potential for economic growth in all regions and for all people. It was essential that national review processes were informed in an inclusive and informative manner, while it was also vital that the relevant actors were brought together to mobilize financing for the future development agenda. The 2030 Agenda needed the participation of all actors to ensure that no one was left behind and so that all peoples could enjoy lives of dignity and prosperity in a world of peace.
VLADISLAV SMRZ, Deputy Minister of Environment of Czechia, said that at a recent meeting in Prague, he had observed that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda required everyone’s participation. By noting the examples of community engagement and participatory budgeting presented, he concluded that it was critical for Government to involve multiple stakeholders in development. In his country, 2018 marked the commemoration of 100 years of Czech statehood and he believed that the 2030 Agenda provided a unique opportunity in that context. His Government had tried to make the experience of implementing the 2030 Goals as participatory as possible. That participatory process had concluded with public hearings in the Czech Parliament, and the Government had adopted a strategic framework in 2017. The process had been demanding and occasionally frustrating, but had been worth it because it helped the Government spread the word about the 2030 Agenda. With regards to the environment, his country had successfully ensured that the public was consulted for its national parks vision and that their voices were heard. Their campaign for balanced nature protection had included members of the public voicing their opinions on the issue. As a result, his country had managed to pass important legislation and create a strong sense of ownership in terms of people’s national heritage.
SERGIO LONDOÑO ZUREK, General Director of the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation of Colombia, said that his Government was carefully looking at the needs and challenges that the country faced in achieving sustainable development. Stable and lasting peace would be required for the full implementation of the Goals in all regions. In order to create opportunities for productive, full lives without distinction, it would be necessary to address the structural causes of armed conflict and bridge the socioeconomic gaps between citizens in various regions of the country. In that connection, in February 2015, Colombia’s President created a high-level institutional commission for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which served a vital coordination role between the Government and various stakeholders. The country had also adopted a public policy framework that would serve as the long-term road map for the design and implementation of policies and programmes and would guide the work of local authorities. One of the main challenges would be taking the agenda to the local level so as to reach each and every citizen. He reaffirmed the value of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and said that Colombia would continue to work together with all stakeholders for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Chaired by Ms. Chatardová, the first panel discussion was titled “Global trends and emerging issues: Building sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies in a changing world” and was moderated by Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The panellists included Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank Group Senior Vice President for the 2030 Development Agenda; Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction; and Janet C. Gornick, Professor of Political Science and Sociology, City University of New York, and Director, Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality.
Mr. HARRIS recalled global economic growth was projected at 2.8 per cent, reflecting increased demand. However, risks had also increased, such as rising levels of public and private debt, threats to the non-discriminatory trading system, rising inequality and climate change, among others. Such trends were creating a complex set of challenges in terms of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. MIZUTORI said that disasters displaced more than 20 million people annually and pushed 26 million people into poverty, destroying years of development gains. Vulnerability and exposure to disaster risk was also increasing, due to rapid urbanization and environmental degradation, clearly illustrating the links between sustainable development and climate change. An inclusive approach was required to disaster management, with all stakeholders providing unique contributions through their experiences and knowledge. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction recognized that whereas Governments had the overall responsibility for reducing risk, it was critical to act jointly. It highlighted the importance of collecting risk information, she noted. The next global platform would be held in May 2019 in Geneva. She recalled that, during her recent visit to Sendai, Japan, she met with victims of the 2011 tsunami in that country and learned about preparedness planning from them. Their stories illustrated how stakeholders could work together to make societies more resilient.
Mr. MOHIELDIN said that change was happening rapidly, often beyond the capacity of policy-makers and institutions to keep pace. A recent document from the World Bank Group had highlighted eight major trends, including demographic transitions. More than 4 billion people lived in cities today, and by 2050, the urban population would double its current size. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the extreme poor would continue to live in rural areas. He also noted the links between fragility and violence, with 2 billion people having been affected by natural disasters in the past decade. Moreover, fatalities from disasters were much higher in developing countries, with burdens of violence falling disproportionately on the poor. In response, he noted the localization approach of sustainable development in terms of official development assistance (ODA) and partnerships to leverage private sector finance. It was important to enhance the capacities of local communities to support the overall effort to mobilize resources. In terms of leveraging technology, he called for harnessing it, noting the impact seen in examples around the world, such as the Aadhaar identification project in India.
Ms. GORNICK detailed the contributions of LIS, a cross-national research centre and data archive based in Luxembourg. It provided micro-data at the level of households and persons and focused on income data, with information available on labour and consumption as well, covering nearly 50 countries. The archive was accessible to eligible researchers from universities, Government agencies and non-governmental organizations. As examples of the archive’s capabilities, she presented trend charts on poverty rates, illustrating income redistribution rates across countries. Effective monitoring of the 2030 Goals required extensive, high-quality disaggregated data comparable over time and space. Complementing such high-quality micro-data with national and sub-national macro-data on corresponding policies and institutions was also needed for effective policy analysis.
The representative of Andorra said that her country experienced disaster risk because of snowstorms, and as such, building safe schools and considering perspectives across ages was important.
The representative of Thailand said that serious sustainability began at the community level. Local governments played an important role in localizing the 2030 Goals and civil society provided feedback in that regard. His country’s approach to development was inspired by the sufficiency philosophy, which had been incorporated in its national development plan and had allowed it to recover from financial crises and disasters.
The representative of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that although the 2030 Agenda had come about through a sophisticated and broad-based process, people in countries at all levels of development felt excluded from it. With a declining trust in national institutions, people were questioning multilateralism as well. The OECD was attempting to reverse that trend and would be launching a new policy on the drivers of inclusive economic growth.
The representative of Canada said it was encouraging to see evidence being used in implementing the 2030 Agenda, asking what kinds of efforts were under way to further consolidate available data and mechanisms to bring experts together in terms of knowledge sharing.
Mr. MOHIELDIN said that the World Bank Group had identified areas for further work, such as the role of data in decision-making and disaster management. However, large investment was required at the national level in that regard. There was a need for opening up domestic resource mobilization, he said, adding that “data is the new oil” when it came to information technology.
Ms. MIZUTORI said that in terms of local strategies for disaster management, the lack of manpower and capacity was a challenge to address. Disaggregated data could only be gathered at the local level, but was challenging to collect in terms of capacity. Only when national Governments gave space to different stakeholders was collaboration possible.
Responding to Canada, Ms. GORNICK said that many data-related organizations like her own were trying to develop systems to make information accessible more broadly. They had ad-hoc ties to United Nations agencies, but did not have systematized links in that regard. She asked for feedback from delegates and representatives in order for the database to become more useful to them.
Mr. HARRIS said that there was a sense among stakeholders that participation in terms of the 2030 Agenda implementation had not occurred as enthusiastically as possible, and that sense of exclusion might explain declining trust in institutions. “This is a very serious wake-up call,” he said, calling for everyone to consider how to overcome that participation divide.
The representative of Colombia and civil society representatives also participated in the discussion.
A second panel discussion, also chaired by Ms. Chatardová, was titled “Innovative policy approaches and technologies to foster participation of all” and was moderated by Michael Shank, Communications Director, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. The panellists included Hedia Belhadj, Groupe Tawhida Ben Cheikh, Women’s Health Research and Action, Tunisia; Francesco Tena, Project Manager, Participatory Budgeting Project, United States; Aroon P. Manoharan, Professor and Programme Director, Global Comparative Public Administration MPA Programme, University of Massachusetts Boston, United States; and Petr Marek, ERC-TECH, Czechia.
Mr. SHANK made several proposals to encourage participation in development, including accessible crowd-sourcing, consensus-building by involving the broader community, communications and preventing conflict by including several perspectives.
Ms. BELHADJ said that in her country, civil society had played a major role in identifying barriers and bringing community participation to the fore. Her organization aimed to change attitudes in terms of reproductive health, bringing in partner civil society organizations to address other requests women were making. She detailed local initiatives those partners had then undertaken, such as mapping and coalition-building, that had risen to the national level, constituting a strong advocacy platform. Community capacity strengthening had led to enhanced resilience, leading to community members advocating for their own rights and speaking out on issues, leading to changes in the law. Community mobilization could thus lead to “snowball partnerships” between civil society organizations, engaging Government institutions in building consensus in terms of human rights.
Mr. TENA detailed the experience of participatory budgeting in the United States, noting that the process must ensure equity and inclusion. In that context, he stressed the importance of grassroots leadership, inclusive design and targeted outreach to communities that tended not to participate. He drew from experiences in Boston, United States, to illustrate the process. Participatory budgeting was the ideal vehicle to translate global goals to the local level and was the way to scale down the Sustainable Development Goals to make them relevant to the average person. Originating in Brazil, it was now working in more than 30 cities across the United States, he said, adding that participatory budgeting would now happen in every high school in New York City. It was important to train people in different contexts so that they could institutionalize the process for themselves. Government agencies also benefited from the process, giving them a collaborative way to interface with residents.
Mr. MANOHARAN spoke about “e-Government,” an area whose goal was public participation and inclusivity. His research focused on evaluating cities’ performance on their implementation of e-government, in terms of privacy, usability, content, service and citizen participation. Through that research, he found that more city governments were gradually adopting e-government but continued to place less emphasis on privacy and citizen participation online. Moreover, many cities were unable to sustain their performance. He went on to highlight the global digital divide, which encompassed economic, geographical, social and cultural dimensions. In terms of inclusive technology platforms, he provided the examples of the Cape Access Project in South Africa and the Estonia Citizen Initiative Portal. In order to enable technology to foster participation and promote sustainable development, he called for greater connectivity infrastructure, building capacity in terms of public administrator skills and cooperation to develop a global and comparative perspective. He provided best practices examples of city websites from Prague, Tokyo, New York City, Seoul, Shanghai and Singapore.
Mr. MAREK said his company was bringing about a revolution in terms of solutions for the waste and construction industry. Through a patented process, ERC-TECH was recycling inert concrete and demolition and making concrete production 15 per cent to 35 per cent cheaper, thus resolving the environmental burden. Such technical know-how was resulting in global financial benefits of $115 billion per year. Turning to the 2030 Goals, he noted that the process contributed to Goal 9 through stimulating the construction industry, Goal 8 by generating new job opportunities and Goal 13 by significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions, among others.
Mr. SHANK noted that such technological solutions also constituted opportunities for community engagement.
The representative of the African Union asked for poverty to have a strong position in the development agenda, adding that the specific situation in Africa should be taken into account. She recommended that women’s leadership be given greater support, calling for greater discussion and assistance in that regard.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that her Government had adopted processes such as participatory budgeting, but some concerns about populism and extremism were emerging. She asked for ideas and experiences on how to discern between sound public opinions and those voices.
The representative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union said that, in terms of budgeting, there was often a gap between what was asked of citizens and what was then implemented. He asked about the danger of public mistrust when such demands were not implemented considering the tensions inherent in the negotiation process.
Ms. BELHADJ said that investing in women would lead to investing in all the 2030 Goals. Her organization’s plan was to engage more young people, especially because youth constituted a sizeable proportion of Tunisia’s population.
Mr. TENA said that in the United States, participatory budgeting worked when it was part of local planning guidelines, enabling the setting of local direction backed by concrete funding.
Mr. MANOHARAN stressed the need to ensure rural areas were connected, with intergovernmental collaboration to enable that. He was working on bridging theory and practice by examining what graduate programmes could offer in that regard.
Mr. MAREK called for delivering environmental and financial benefits by funding pilot projects utilizing new technologies.
Moderated by David Steven, Senior Fellow and Associate Director at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, the third panel of the day was titled “Strengthening cooperation for sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies”. The panellists included Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; Andrew Gilmour, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Office in New York; Nathalie Molina Niño, CEO, BRAVA Investments; Tomáš Rákos, Head of Business Development and Special Projects, D21, Czechia; and Vitalice Meja, Reality of Aid Africa Network, Kenya.
Mr. GILMOUR stressed that the participation of civil society was essential for ensuring that all voices were heard, including the voices of the most vulnerable. Governments did not have a “monopoly over wisdom”, and it was important to hear from others. Sustainability efforts needed to be based on human rights to effectively combat inequalities and exclusion that prevented development for all. There had been fairly limited participation from civil society in the Economic and Social Council’s High-Level Political Forum, he said, noting the requirement for non-governmental organizations to have consultative status with the Council, which often created an obstacle for civil society participation. On the national level, there was a tendency to “squeeze” civil society through the passage of laws and other restrictive measures, including punitive steps such as imprisonment. There must be a more systematic effort to reverse those trends, including the censorship of voices and other forms of intimidation that prevented the United Nations from hearing all voices.
Mr. CHUNGONG said that in a world which had grown hyper-competitive, societies held very little trust in Governments, in-part due to growing inequalities. In that connection, he emphasized the importance of effective cooperation and partnership. There was a need to bring multiple actors together for common causes. It was misconstrued at times that all partners were equal, but in his view, Governments had the leading role to play, while parliaments were responsible for ensuring that Governments upheld their commitments. Parliaments were responsible for working on behalf of all people, irrespective of their social status. Yet, despite the prominent role that Governments were supposed to play, in recent years, many had been retreating from their commitments. He stressed the need for proactive social action to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly civil society, were engaged. Furthermore, the private sector must also be engaged in a more robust manner.
Ms. MOLINA NIÑO said that her company invested in businesses that benefited women and did not exclusively focus on businesses founded by women. “Representation is important, but it’s not the only thing,” she emphasized, highlighting that her company was in the business of investing in solutions that benefited women. The social impact investing sector was maturing, but what was missing was scale, which was another reason why her company did not focus exclusively on businesses with female founders. Instead, her company chose sectors based on growth as it was “unapologetically for-profit”, she said, drawing attention to the firm’s particular interest in the consumer products, health care and education sectors. Businesses that benefited women were not getting enough investment, she said, stressing there were many such businesses that were ready and willing to receive it.
Mr. RÁKOS said that people and communities had an inherent desire to engage — and if they did not engage, then the process should be blamed, not the people or the communities. The lack of civic education was the source of huge ineffectiveness within communities. The participatory process should not be treated as a political campaign or a public relations project, he warned, emphasizing that if the trust of communities was lost, it would take years to gain it back. There was no magic “app” that could guarantee public participation. The largest challenge that he was facing was that most of his clients, including public officials, “don’t know what they don’t know”. In other words, there was a lack of understanding of communities. It was important to boost public participation around the world, but national Governments and international organizations must help institutionalize participatory processes rather than try to control them.
Mr. MEJA said that the issues of resilience and inclusivity were at the core of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He underscored the importance of inclusive partnerships, and in that context, he stressed the need for Governments to identify factors that impeded inclusiveness, including legal frameworks that undermined inclusivity. Political rhetoric, institutional obstacles and excessive bureaucracy could also compromise inclusive partnerships. On the country level, social and multi-stakeholder dialogues could promote stronger partnerships. If the 2030 Agenda was not embraced on the local level, “we are not going to go anywhere,” he said. It was important to address the issues of transparency and accountability, he said, adding that Governments should not be afraid to admit they were wrong.
In the ensuing discussion, a representative of civil society said that it was vital that civil society was included in discussions on at all levels. She also questioned whether there could be an opportunity for non-governmental organizations to participate in the national voluntary reviews.
The representative of Brazil said that civil society would be essential for the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda, noting that civil society was increasingly interconnected on the global level. She drew attention to new social movements on justice and security that had recently gained traction in Brazil.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said that creating transparent Governments would require the sharing of data. Many times, citizens did not have access to or understand data that would allow them to make informed decisions.
Mr. MEJA said that with regard to the national voluntary reviews, the participation of citizens in the creation of those reports was of greatest importance.
Mr. RÁKOS said that there was often confusion about what was meant by a “participatory process”. Governments should seek to treat citizens as customers, as was done in the private sector.
Ms. MOLINA NIÑO said that there could be great value in looking at disenfranchised groups as undervalued assets.
Mr. CHUNGONG said that the national voluntary reviews should not be viewed as the sole property of Governments and multi-stakeholder dialogue platforms should be leveraged.
A representative of a non-governmental organization said trust was a key element of public participation, particularly when looking at the exchanges that took place in more informal settings.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that public participation would be critical for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. No one sector or level of government had the capacity to solve the world’s challenges alone and all must work together to forge and formalize partnerships. Beyond partnerships, Governments and institutions must work together and inform, consult and listen to each other, he said, point out that there were immense opportunities to use new technologies to facilitate that collaboration. The cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda was the pledge to leave no one behind and the success of the future development agenda depended on it. The international community must be careful to ensure that the engagement and participation of all was embedded into permanent and far-reaching structures and institutional frameworks. Such participation should be viewed as an asset that enriched discussions, brought localized knowledge of issues and created solutions. Communication and outreach were important. Universal engagement meant that strong and responsive governments were required on all levels.
Ms. CHATARDOVÁ said that there was consensus that new technologies held significant opportunities to improve the participation of all and Governments had been called on to take the lead in creating more space for widespread participation. The role of local governments had also been emphasized, she noted, underscoring that a vibrant and actively-engaged civil society was crucial for achieving the participation of everyone. Further, parliaments had an important role to play in bringing together all sectors of society, although to further enhance their role, it would be critical to overcome obstacles, such as lack of resources, skills and knowledge. The strengthening of sustainable, resilient and inclusive communities had also been underlined.