Last week in New York world leaders, NGO representatives, and a multitude of other stakeholders and interested parties met for a review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In addition to the official MDG Summit numerous auxiliary meetings were held including the Clinton Global Initiative, Digital Media Lounge, and TedXChange. What did we learn (or reconfirm) from all of this talk?
1) Local participation is essential – Celebrities may draw attention to “good” causes and “money may talk” (and be needed) but for effective, sustainable solutions to forward the MDGs and take the world out of poverty these solutions must include input from those who are directly impacted and those who support them locally. A first step is to recognize that sustainable solutions can not be created by the privileged but need local decision-makers to be involved every step of the way. The second and equally difficult step is to develop truly inclusive mechanisms to bring this about.
2) Summits are necessary and [even] useful but announcements can be distracting – Elmira Bayrasli who attended the Clinton Global Initiative observed that “Summits/conferences/meetings convene people and forces a discussion of issues. Talking about these issues, however imperfect the platform is, is better than not talking about issues. The problem arises, however, when announcements of “new” programs dominate and takes time away that should be spent focused on on-going issues.”
3) More attention needs to be given to analyzing and disseminating information about what is working and why, and what is not working – Summit publicity announcements indicated that ‘best practices’ would be shared, but little such information was ‘reported out’ for public consumption, nor were ancillary meetings with useful information, such as Ghana TedxAccra: developing a plan for Africans by Africans, reported on during the week’s media flood. Tom Murphy who attended the Digital Media Lounge observed: “Too much was an outward show and too many opportunities for some real substance were lost. It was a beautifully orchestrated waltz, but was hard to get real insight in to what is happening, especially for the organizations that are not associated with the UN.”
4) A large percentage of the public in donor countries are unfamiliar with the MDGs – If donor countries are to keep their commitments (both governmental and through NGO activity) more public outreach is needed. As with so many other “international issues” we must make extended efforts to reach beyond those working in the international aid world to those who don’t usually see themselves as needing to pay attention to “international issues”
You can follow the continuing progress of the MDGs and how you can be involved here: We Can End Poverty Consider making a personal commitment that you will find ways to educate others in your personal and professional networks (who usually turn off ‘international issues’) of the importance of the MDGs. As Nelson Mandela said to a Making Poverty History rally in London in 2005: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.”
Official MDG Summit Outcome Document
 European Commission poll http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_352_en.pdf and UN Foundation poll for U.S.