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Starting Strong: Asia Dialogue on the first 1000 days of the SDGs

Posted by Priyanthi Fernando

21 Jun 2016

Reflections from the moderator!
Spent two days in Club Palm Bay Marawila, Sri Lanka facilitating a workshop with the above title organized by Southern Voice, ODI and CEPA.  Do not be fooled by the pictures on the hotel site – the weather was wet and gloomy, and while we were safe from the disasters of floods and landslides affecting the rest of Sri Lanka, there were tensions of flying into the storms, and travelling across flooded by-roads.  Dr Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of IPS and a speaker in the session on Mobilising Partnerships and Resources to achieve the SDGs, completed the last part of his journey to the venue in a boat!
So the weather was a constant reminder to all of us of the importance of the SDGs –  and how vital it is to address the social and environmental aspects of development alongside the economic if we are to sustain people on this planet. 
I have many take-aways from the two days, and I would like to share a few of my more coherent reflections.  The first thing that struck me was the amount of activity that was already happening, at the level of government and civil society.  The dialogue unfortunately was devoid of any private sector participation, which was a huge disappointment, but also quite telling.  
In his final remarks at the end of the first day, Dr Debapriya  Bhattacharya. Chair of the Southern Voice,  commented on how far the discourse had progressed.  I would agree.  Just three years ago, at the CEPA Annual Symposium on Making Sustainability the Next Metric the idea of ‘integration’ in terms of integrating social and environmental concerns into economic growth led development, was very much an outlier concept.  Today we are able to accept the idea even though I suspect we do not still know how to make it happen.   Dr Debs (as he is affectionately called by his colleagues)  felt encouraged by the fact that  the SDGs give us a lot of flexibility because it is non-mandatory,  which kind of contradicts my own fear that the voluntariness of the  SDG framework could end up even less effective than the MDGs.  The flexibility raises questions for integration as well – will country governments zero down on single targets, cherry pick easy wins, rather than take that more integrated systemic approach that is so necessary? 
Having worked on technology issues for most of my life at ITDG (now Practical Action) and at the IFRTD,  I was really interested in Elenita (Neth) Dano’s presentation on the how technology features in achieving the SDGs.  Technology plays an important part in the SDGs – 14 out of the 17 goals directly refer to science, technology and innovation. But Neth warns that while science, technology and innovation advance rapidly and are seen as a means for implementing the SDGs, it is important to recognise that the ‘technology divide’ is increasing, and that there is a lack of technology justice for many communities and groups of women and men. She also highlighted the need to clearly define what we mean by ‘environmentally sound technologies’, recognizing negative impacts such as that of the green revolution technologies or bio-fuel development on people and the  planet.  She likened  the global silence on the propriety nature of much technology transfer to Voldemort in the Harry Potter fictional series ‘ the one that has no name’ , contrasting the IPRs on wind turbines to the more democratized solar panel systems.   Her presentation made me realise how much the development philosophies of the appropriate technology and indigenous knowledge movements of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have been suppressed by the ideologies of globalization and the  market, and how important it is to resurrect that earlier thinking in the context of the SDGs.
And finally I share some of my thoughts from the vexed question of leaving no one behind. Vagisha Gunasekera of CEPA made some interesting points about not essentialising  left behind categories, and to consider issues of excluded labour categories (peasants, street sweepers, etc) that would point also to address power structures and ‘who is doing the leaving behind’ .  Vagisha argued for universal rather than targeted policies and pointed out that targeted policies,  precisely because of their nature of targeting the marginalized with little political power,  present no incentive for governments to raise revenue.  Michel  Anglade from Save the Children, Asia, lamented the fact that none of the government representatives in the opening session discussed leaving no one behind, and pointed out the need to overcome ‘exclusion blindness’ and social norms as well as have a system of accountability.  I thought it  unfortunate that there is  such a gap between those working in development and those working on human rights, because only a few saw the Human Rights framework as a means of holding governments accountable.  A blog on the High Level Political Forum website by the International Disability Alliance and International Disability and Development Consortium (IDDC) says that to create inclusive SDGs, a human rights approach is required for implementation and review. Many stakeholders are already engaged in the UN’s human rights review processes: treaty bodies, special processes and the Human Rights Council. If the SDGs are to be achieved for everyone, SDG reviews need to be linked to human rights review processes. 
Audrey Lee from  International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific reiterated this point, and the importance of engaging with mechanisms that already exist.   CEDAW for instance encourages the establishment of domestic legal framework to ensure substantive equality for women (the de jure) and the reporting process to the CEDAW Committee also provides accountability for the de facto implementation of a government’s commitments.  I felt that the underlying scepticism  of UN processes is an externality that the Human Rights community needs to tackle, and this means greater engagement with the development community at every level, if the space for Human Rights (which is all about leaving no one out) is not to be sidelined  by a voluntary reporting process with little teeth.
Karin Fernando from CEPA who coordinated the whole Asia Dialogue pointed out right at the very beginning, this dialogue is just a start.  There is still a long way to go for us to understand and to  practice integration, resourcing, inclusion and accountability – and while ‘talkshops’ generally have bad press, this re-imagining of the world as we know it today, is a mammoth task, and something that we cannot, should not,  stop talking about.   Dr Debs closing the event made the point that there never has been such a positive global undertaking; but one that it is happening in a global context wracked by economic, social and environmental problems.  The challenge for the next 1000 days is huge!
Source: Pri's blog

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