Summer has come to an end here in New York and people are bracing themselves for what is forecasted to be another freezing, numbing winter. Nevertheless, it is a very exciting time in New York now as the city is getting ready to host the largest gathering of the world leaders in human history. This year's UN summit is special not just because of numbers of the world leaders are expected to join, but also because they are expected to formally accept the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - new goals for the world.
The old goals, called the Millennium Development Goals, better known by their acronym MDGs, is coming to an official expiration at the end of 2015. The MDGs, a set of eight goals, were established at the United Nations (UN) Millennium Summit in 2000 with the objective of eradicating extreme poverty while addressing its many dimensions including education, health, hunger and the environment, amongst others. Now, after 15 years, despite having many strong criticisms, the MDGs are undeniably the most successful anti-poverty campaign in known human history. In the last 15 years, the world's extreme poverty rate has been cut in half, gender equality has reached a new level of progress, and infant mortality has decreased as the number of deaths from deadly diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS has fallen. However, though the MDGs met the targets in many parts, "more than 836 million people in the world still live under extreme poverty; 57 million children are out-of-school, 5.9 million children under five died in 2015 alone." A lot still needs to be done as the world is still way far from being ideal. As a start, a new set of new goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will take on from where the MDGs are leaving off. From 2016 to 2030, the global development agenda are expected to revolve around the new SDGs, a set of 17 goals.
So, are these SDGs different from the MDGs? Yes, they are very different in many ways:
l These 17 goals are an outcome of an unprecedentedly meticulous method. Unlike the MDGs, which were created by a small group of UN officials at the basement of UN Headquarters as legend goes, the SDGs were shaped by all the UN members. An Open Working Group (OWG) was formed with representatives from the UN member countries that came up with the draft SDGs. Moreover, the UN organised numerous consultations across the globe, besides conducting the largest online survey in its history, called "My World", with over seven million participants. The SDGs, unlike the MDGs, enjoy a wide range of acceptability from the very beginning.
l The SDGs are universal goals, something that might be their most important and distinctive feature. The MDGs were concentrated only on the developing countries where poverty can be seen in its most ruthless form. The SDGs expand the focus to the entire globe and include the rich countries within the framework. This means the rich nations' responsibilities are no longer limited to providing Official Development Assistance (ODA), but to ensuring fundamental policy revisions in their countries so that their policies complement the global development. Each developed nation, like their developing counterparts, will have goals and targets which will be periodically measured and discussed. In other words, SDGs bring forth a model which theoretically sponsors a more equitable, just world order as long as development is concerned.
l Another important aspect of the SDGs is their special focus on saving the planet. Three of the seventeen goals relate directly to fighting climate change and saving the planet, whereas few other goals indirectly aim to do the same. These goals are strong enough to make us rethink, especially the rich nations, about the way we produce and consume.
l Finally, the SDGs have not forgotten to include goals related human rights, equity and equality - something the MDGs completely overlooked.
With the five facets - people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership - at the core, the SDGs are truly global and full of promises. However, it remains to be seen whether the SDGs are up to the enormous challenges they will face. Sustaining economic growth, changing consumption pattern, alternating production approaches, as well as ensuring everyone holds up their end of the bargain are going to be some of the hurdles the SDGs will have to overcome. However, the biggest challenge would probably come from ensuring financing for the SDGs. The UN will need multiplied efforts from the governments, international and multilateral organisations in order to finance the new SDGs. Alongside, the unconventional sources of funds are also being explored to ensure SDGs' success. 'Philanthropy,' a major unconventional source for funding global development goals, is being integrated to the main stream of global development for the first time. As part of an effort to engage philanthropy to post-2015 global development agenda, a platform, called SDG Philanthropy Platform, has been created by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Conrad N Hilton Foundation, Ford Foundation, MasterCard Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and Foundation Centre. The platform aims "to enable partnerships in the global development space and help them flourish to achieve global development outcomes as the world transitions from the MDGs to the SDGs."
At Foundation Centre, we are giving it our best to collect foundation data and knowledge on post-2015 goals for a publicly available web portal that was to be launched on September 24, 2015. The website, www.SDGfunders.org, will act as a tool of synchronisation within philanthropic sector itself, and bridge gaps between public and private sectors' development initiatives so that they can complement each other's development work while minimising duplications of efforts. We welcome all of you to visit our site and contribute to it.
Arif Ekram is International Data Liaison at Foundation Centre, New York