Summary of the Webinar 1
In June 2012, in Cape Town a group of Southern think-tanks forged a new alliance to give voice to the Southern perspectives on a post-MDG (Millennium Development Goal) agenda. The group recognised that there are many other groups, networks and platforms currently bringing together a diverse range of actors who wish to engage in the consultation process laid out for the coming months. So, is there a space for Southern think-tanks to bring something uniquely valuable to the dialogue, and if so, what might theirniche be? These were thekey questions posed in a webinar led by Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, which was joined by over 20 participants from South Asia, Africa and Latin America. The session was moderated by Dr. Peter Taylor of the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) managed by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa.
The overwhelming response from participants to these questions is that a space does indeed exist within the broader post-MDG consultations, and Southern think-tanks have a distinct contribution to make. Looking back at the current set of MDGs, questions are raised frequently about ownership (a top-down approach, aid-oriented agenda?), their contextual relevance (can they really be applied to so many varied contexts, globally?) and resource availability (to what extent have the promises by developed aid-providing nations materialised into practical action?). If there is a knowledge asymmetry in place, leading to the situation whereby inputs on global development goals and agendas have been dominated largely by Northern constituents, can Southern think-tanks find a way to redress this imbalance?
Several potential avenues for Southern think-tanks to contribute were identified during the webinar.
- Ability to identify ”issues of the future” the core opportunities and challenges that will face many countries in the global South in the coming decade.National think-tanks are working on these issues already, but there is still room to develop meaningful indicators for change, and ways of measuring such indicators.
- Shifting the discourse from one of “recipients of aid” to “rights and entitlements of citizens”.Research is needed on attainability of development goals, as is evidence on what has really been achieved so far on the ground.
- Linking the emerging global development agenda to the realities of national and local contexts, to avoid divergence of global goals and national targets away from the needs and aspirations of citizens, and supporting a far more inclusive approach than has been associated with the existing MDGs.
- Capitalising on current buy-in and momentum of the MDGs by aggregating diverse views from across the public at national level, and presenting these as a means of building on, and increasing the existing political support for achievement of goals and targets.
If the capacity to address such issues may be enhanced by creating a space for Southern think-tanks to speak out and be heard, what kinds of mechanisms are likely to bear most fruit and can be realistically achieved? A range of ideas were shared in the webinar including the following:
- Generate a Report based on Southern perspectives on future directions of the post-MDGs.
- Revisit indicators for assessment of progress on existing MDGs and also potential future goals and targets for post-2015.
- Highlight national and regional ”bright spots”, or successes achieved already in respect to the current MDGs, and present good quality evidences that illustrate these.
- Present aggregations of research findings from across Southern nations relating to achievements with the present MDGs (at both national and regional levels), and provide analyses of issues that may become central to a post-MDG agenda, for example, employment, inequality, access to land, gender issues, climate change, post-conflict dynamics.
- Host dialogues which bring together different actors from Southern contexts (for example regional actors who might otherwise not connect); generally get real leverage around some of the more challenging and contentious issues to raise their profile in the ongoing consultations.
- Engage with international development partners operating at national level on a post-MDG agenda, as a valuable entry point to shape thinking around global development aid mechanisms.
- Convert “thinking” into ”acting”; for example, Southern think-tanks have the potential to help create accountability mechanisms by which citizens can hold their own governments to account on national development targets and contributions towards achievement of global development goals.
In line with the call to put thoughts into action, the Centre for Policy Dialogue will host a meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh in early January 2013. This event will bring together not only representatives of Southern think tanks committed to the idea of a Southern Voice on theagenda” but also other key stakeholders who see this space as having the potential to encourage a truly transformative, global development agenda, post-2015. The meeting will enable participants to lay out a common agenda for research, policy engagement and action, and establish a transparent and inclusive interface between national, regional and global dialogues.
At a practical level, the group aims to take the outcomes of this conversation to a wider public, including the UN High-level Panel and other constituencies that form part of the post-MDG consultation process. This is likely to require both a virtual platform and face-to-face interaction,these approaches working closely in concert. Ultimately the “unique selling point” (USP) of Southern think-tanks is their capacity, not just as individual organisations, but as a vibrant, proactive community of practice, to undertake and disseminate high quality research and analyses that feed into the emergence of a post-MDG agenda – and beyond. A second webinar will be convened on the second half of December 2012 to take the conversation on the agenda and modalities of Southern Voice on Post-MDGs to its next level.
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