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Statement by Mark Suzman, President, Global Policy and Advocacy
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
to
Sixth Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
in
New York, NY, December 10, 2013

Introduction

President Ashe, Ambassador Kõrösi, Ambassador Kamau, Excellencies It is an honor to be with you for this sixth session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.

Your commitment to an open and transparent process incorporating input from all stakeholders across a wide range of topics is extraordinary. It’s also vital, because this member-state led process is crucial to guiding the 193 member states of the UN toward agreement on a post-2015 global development agenda.

Back when the MDGs were conceived, I was policy director at UNDP. It was the turn of the millennium, and world leaders had recognized that globalization was not working for all. They agreed on a visionary Millennium Declaration that laid out in clear and succinct terms the kind of world we want. But not only that. The global community also managed to create an action agenda out of that declaration, with a specific set of priorities, hard targets, and deadlines that we collectively agreed we would achieve. Of all the important actions the UN has taken, this has without a doubt been one of the most significant and successful.

One of the things that makes this progress, and the promise of the successor goals, so important  is that it is occurring against a backdrop of historic progress  in many parts of the developing world – progress that has in large part been facilitated by the Millennium Development Goals themselves.

A new generation of leaders is undertaking widespread reforms that have led to dramatic improvement in economic growth, including in much of Africa where the needs are greatest. This has facilitated greatly increased investment in areas like agricultural development, which in turn is driving reductions in poverty and hunger, increasing access to primary education, and strengthening health care systems capable of delivering the vaccines and drugs needed to stem the tide of infectious diseases.

As someone who grew up amidst the turmoil of South Africa’s drive for social and economic equality, it is hard to express in words the profound meaning of this transformative change. But one thing is for certain. Nothing could better honor the memory of Nelson Mandela and what he so passionately believed in than to build on this success and ensure the next set of goals help drive even deeper and wider progress in Africa and across the world.

The Impact of Partnerships

I appreciate the opportunity to speak today about the importance of global partnership in achieving sustainable development. Partnerships really have emerged as the linchpin of the MDGs, and they will be a cornerstone of achieving whatever goals are agreed to for the post- 2015 era.

The MDGs created an enabling environment for well-coordinated and effective global partnerships anchored to the needs of developing countries. Partnerships like the GAVI Alliance; The Global Fund; Every Woman, Every Child; and the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement.

These partnerships – all of which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been proud to be part of – have aligned the vision of developing countries, the generosity of government donors, and the expertise of multilateral organizations, civil society, and the private sector in an unprecedented way. Now, everybody is pulling from the same end of the rope.

I can’t think of a better example than last week’s Global Fund Replenishment session, where donors pledged $12 billion – a 30% increase in funding. This was a huge vote of confidence in the Global Fund’s mission and its impact turning the tide on three epidemics that remain leading causes of death, disability, and poverty.

Today, some goals have been met ahead of schedule, and some are a bit behind. Some nations have exceeded expectations, and others must work harder. But all in all, we have seen tremendous progress on many indicators, including in some of the poorest countries:

  • Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Tanzania are among more than a half-dozen countries that have met the goal of reducing under-five child deaths by two-thirds or more.
  • Innovative agricultural efforts in countries like Cambodia and Malawi are helping lift millions of people out of extreme poverty and hunger.
  • And advances in maternal and community health have contributed to a nearly 50% decline in maternal mortality worldwide since 1990.

These achievements, sustained and extended over time, represent the kind of change that’s necessary to build the capacity of developing countries and create healthier, better educated citizens who are the foundation of long-term prosperity.

Yet, a sizable unfinished agenda remains. More than half of the 6.6 million under-five child deaths last year could have been prevented or treated with simple, affordable interventions. Hundreds of millions of people are still hungry. More than 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation facilities.

These are challenges that our foundation and our partners are working on together with many of your governments and your ministries.

The question I’d like to focus on today is this: how do we make the post-2015 goals as actionable and successful as the MDGs?

A Changing Landscape

Obviously, the new development goals must take account of an evolving world. The context for development has experienced significant changes since the Millennium Summit in 2000. In particular, the anchor of accelerated economic growth – supported by investments in infrastructure and greater job creation – remains essential. There are some broader background trends to be cognizant of as well:

  • Many countries are successfully growing their economies but still have large pockets of extreme poverty and human need.
  • Government investment is increasing in most developing countries, though it is not always translating sufficiently into pro-poor investments.
  • Among traditional donors, fiscal constraints threaten historic support for global health and development, although such assistance is a small percentage of national budgets
  • New public and private donors have joined the landscape –a positive development, but with the potential to add more complexity on the ground.
  • And in a world of increased resource constraints, environmental sustainability has only increased as an issue.

Clearly, all of these factors have implications for how we think about the post-2015 agenda. Yet, tempting as it may be, it isn’t realistic to expect the next set of development goals to effectively tackle the full range of global concerns. Instead, we must continue to think about which avenues are best to tackle each challenge – and they’re not always normative global goals like the MDG. Other forums that focus on more politically contentious issues that require legally binding solutions, in areas such a trade and climate change, are the right place for those discussions.

Guideposts for the Post-2015 Agenda

Addressing extreme poverty, hunger, and preventable disease should remain our shared top priority. The MDGs helped advance this agenda, and the successor goals should build on this solid course. If they do, it is reasonable to imagine a world in 2030 that is on the verge of eliminating extreme poverty – where a child born in a poor country is as likely to survive and thrive as a child in a rich country.

To achieve this, we must again identify a time-bound, limited set of the most critical priorities. The good news is we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We know what is working and how to accelerate progress with a post-2015 development agenda. Here are a few guideposts that we believe are useful to consider:

  • As with the existing MDGs, full endorsement by the UN member states is essential to confer legitimacy and widespread buy-in.
  • The goals must continue to focus on the biggest gaps in global equity – child and maternal mortality; infectious diseases such as HIV, TB, and malaria; clean water and adequate sanitation; and childhood stunting and agricultural productivity.
  • The goals also should be simple and clear, so whether you are an African farmer, a European pensioner, or a policymaker, they make sense and reflect the things that all people care about – mothers surviving childbirth, clean water, basic sustenance, kids going to school.
  • Targets should be ambitious but achievable. By that, I mean targets that can only be reached with effort, but are not out of the realm of possibility.
  • Targets must also be measurable to track progress.
  • And, and as we’ve seen with the MDGs, deadlines are incredibly helpful in fostering accountability and encouraging action.

Learning from the MDGs

We also have an opportunity with the post-2015 development goals to incorporate lessons learned.

Environmental Sustainability

In the next set of goals, there needs to be more explicit recognition of the relationship between development priorities. For example, there is widespread agreement that MDG 7 on environmental sustainability did not generate the same kind of traction we saw in areas such as health and education. We know that poverty reduction won’t be possible, or lasting, if we don’t take account of how we use natural resources and the pressure we put on the environment. In a world of growing resource constraints, we need to think about how to embed sustainability more directly into the post-MDG framework. Food security, water availability, and economic growth all have environmental dimensions that can be integrated in the target and indicator setting of development goals. For instance, better environmental stewardship around more efficient water use, and drought resistant crops that enable more intensive farming and limit deforestation, can help us meet poverty goals.

Better Target Setting

The next set of goals should allow for customization of targets to reflect the reality of national and regional differences. The MDG targets were set at a global level. As a result, countries with the farthest distance to travel on issues such as mortality, education, and water and sanitation had a more difficult time reaching the targets, even though in absolute terms, many countries in sub-Saharan African and elsewhere have made some of the greatest gains. Taking into account the different starting points of countries would make targets more useful for national monitoring purposes. And more realistic targets would potentially incent countries to reach them.

Tracking Pockets of Inequity

We also need to do a better job of identifying and addressing pockets of poverty that persist, especially in middle income countries. The key here is tracking progress by more discrete measures that capture differences among vulnerable and excluded groups, including women, rural communities, ethnic minorities, farming families and others in the lowest income populations.

Accelerating Progress

In the post-2015 era, ODA will continue to play a critical role, particularly for low-income countries. But we also need more support for R&D that accelerates innovation and game-changing solutions. We need better knowledge sharing through triangular partnerships between middle-income countries, traditional donors, and developing countries. The MDGs helped spark greater support for multi-stakeholder partnerships, and we also need to expand these kinds of partnership models to other goal areas.

Conclusion

A little over a decade ago, the entire world agreed to embark on an unprecedented effort to tackle extreme poverty at its roots. Today, the MDGs stand as an exemplar of what we can achieve by working together. Simply put, they have fostered the most successful antipoverty initiative the world has ever undertaken.

I believe we can build on this progress – to not just imagine, but actually create a world where all people – regardless of where they were born – have a chance to live a healthy, productive life.

Agreeing on a strong, new framework with the unfinished agenda of the first goal at its heart, is the best way to build on and widen the pioneering partnerships that helped support developing countries make real progress against the MDGs over the past decade. This is the path that we know from experience will work to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease, and create a virtuous cycle of economic growth, job creation, infrastructure development, peace, and security.

The global community has an historic opportunity to accelerate the progress we’ve made. We stand ready and eager to help in any way we can.

Thank you.

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