Challenges of recovery, climate change and inequality

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on our world and caused a devastating economic and social disruption. An especially heavy blow was dealt to emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs). These countries now face the challenge of containing the virus and at the same time ensuring an inclusive recovery. This creates a need for effective policies that would allow the EMDEs to build back better.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly exacerbated existing inequalities with 120 million people being pushed into extreme poverty. It is crucial to reduce discrimination and inequality everywhere to have a successful recovery since we cannot have macroeconomic and financial stability without social sustainability.

These challenges are aggravated by climate change—a crisis that can cause even greater destruction than the pandemic. There is an urgent need to find pathways to reach net-zero emissions at the global level and ensure a just transition that leaves no one behind.

During this lecture at the 9th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), Kristalina Georgieva, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and  Jeffrey Sachs, the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and a world-renowned economics professor, discussed the above-mentioned interconnected challenges of recovery, climate change and inequality.

Introduction was delivered by Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships.

Safeguarding a climate – towards a sustainable future

The survival and prosperity of humans on planet Earth has been supported over the past 11,000 years by a remarkably stable climate: the geological Holocene epoch. Human pressures on the Earth system are since 70 years so high, and rising, leading to the scientific conclusion that we have entered a new geological Epoch, the Anthropocene, in which human activity has become a defining factor in the state of our Earth system. Earth resilience remains reasonably intact, while evidence shows that we are seeing worrying signs of approaching, or even having crossed, several tipping point. This talk will walk through the latest assessment of whether we are at risk of crossing a planetary threshold, and argue for setting scientific targets for a safe operating space on Earth, to keep the Earth system in a Holocene-like inter-glacial state, and suggest the framing for planetary stewardship of a stabilized Earth for people and planet.

Natural resource extraction after COVID: social justice challenge

Global Witness’s annual reports on the killings of environmental defenders are but one, awful, indication of the social injustices that can accompany the extraction of natural resources from the subsoil and from forests. The struggle for social justice in these environments has become yet more difficult under COVID, all the more so given the impacts of COVID on indigenous populations in many of these environments. These challenges seem likely to intensify downstream of COVID in the face of economic reactivation policies, closing civic space, the search for energy transition minerals, and a politics of urgency that risks undermining a politics of social justice. In this talk I explore some of these trends and the challenges they present to civil society and to philanthropies that support civil society. I will refer especially to the experience of the Ford Foundation, while also making a broader argument.

Fasten green belts on journey to sustainability

This was the first Kapuscinski Lecture ever held in Latin America, hosted by the Instituto de Ecología (INECOL) in Xalapa, Mexico. This was a relevant event on three different levels. First, it established he international connections over environment and development concerns with global organisms such as the European Commission and the UNDP. Inequities still grow between rich and poor areas, and it remains urgent to put these inequities at the center of  green belts rights. Envisioning a more resilient future requires action today aimed at establishing harmony between human development and nature. This is especially significant within the framework of climate change where investing in nature really matters. This Kapuscinski Lecture promoted civil society integration with academia and government with focus on effective partnerships for empathetic development characterized by harmony and connections between human activities and nature. This human-nature empathy highlights the importance of  “Life on Land” (SDG 15) as a central element of the whole 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Ecosystem integrity is, in fact, the basis of this vision aimed at preserving the life support system in the biosphere. Wanjira Mathai showed in her lecture that Greenbelts coherently connect ecosystem integrity with social integration. She argued that organizations must address food systems, climate change, gender equality amongst other issues while reinforcing their commitments to prest the “earth’s lungs” through Green Belts.

Second, the national impact of the conference was significant as it raised a subject that touches environmental sensitivities in Mexico. People here are already aware of the urgency to conserve environmental resources. There is nothing wrong with the land, as Wanjira stated, but people must start restoring landscapes and creating belts of green trees, or monitoring water amongst other initiatives.Agency to start or continue any type of movement to invest in nature-base development solutions in Mexico is the key to sustainability.

Third, the seed of Wanjira´s talk impacted an active and growing socioenvironmental community in Xalapa. Wanjira mentioned how she was fascinated to know about and meet the environmental network in Central Veracruz. We are building our future. Civil society has shown valuable examples of effective partnerships which connect communities to their natural surroundings, particularly in Africa, where the Green Belt Movement has emerged. Without such connections, sustainability, such as that proposed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remains abstract. The exchange between Wanjira and local environmental activists grounded the Kapuscinski initiative in community-oriented and evidence-based discussions.

  • As for the lecture itself, Wanjira focused on four main responses in her answer to the question, What does it mean to “tightening our green belts” for a sustainabile future? Improve food security.- Ask ourselves: “How do we produce food?” This is an important part of how we tighten our belts. Increasing productivity is a really important part of it. 80% of the food is produced by small scale farmers, and from this 70% are women. We must ensure sustainable livelihoods for small farmers.
  • We have to protect our nature, the green around us, but particularly the three lungs of the planet: the Amazon, the Congo Forest, and Bongo Forest in Southeast Asia. We have to restore. Restoration movements represent “once in a lifetime opportunities” for us to restore landscapes. African has initiatives to restore landscapes to their previous productivity. We have to put as much vegetation as we can into the land to fight carbon emissions. There are so many incredible movements that are restoring the world and their green belts through restoration.
  • Ensure Gender equality. The Green-belt movement began through activities organized by women. Women planted trees on their property to protect urban sustainability. Women nurtured the movement and expanded it. Gender equality is a key characteristic of sustainability which must be addressed.
  • We must recycled materials. We have to revisit, reintroduce and reimagine wonderful elements of knowledge, especially from indigenous traditional knowledge. 40% of carbon emission comes from how we use products. Only 20% of all that we produce goes to recycling, the 80% is waste and this planet cannot sustain that much waste.

Together, we can and will unify to secure a more sustainable future.

A post-Covid world: the scene for developing countries

The COVID pandemic will have been the largest global shock since WWII. It will have affected disproportionately and differently developing countries. Pascal Lamy asks before the event: what are the likely consequences on their geoeconomic and geopolitical environment? How can international cooperation be relaunched in order to avoid a further fracture between North and South?

Safe and sustainable mobility: on the road to the SDGs

Every year 1.35 million people are killed in the world’s roads. 50 million more are injured.

Road crashes are the leading cause of death for children and young people (5-29 years) and developing countries bear the greatest burden. But it’s not just personal safety – the economic costs keep people in poverty and road quality is linked to many areas of sustainable development.

Safe and sustainable public transport helps provide access to trade, jobs, markets, education, health care and other services that contribute to economic growth and quality of life. It can empower women, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

Road safety should be an integral element of land use, street design, fighting climate change, transport system planning and governance, especially for vulnerable road users and in urban areas.

Solutions exist, we can prevent millions of tragedies on the road worldwide.

The lecture was hosted by the the IPAG Business School and the UN Road Safety Fund.

COVID-19 and the urgency of the African energy transition

As we begin the final stretch to 2030, Sub-Saharan Africa is facing serious challenges to achieving  the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  With significant population growth and massive urbanization in the continent, governments are under tremendous pressure to achieve economic growth, provide jobs and social services, and expand access to energy.

Currently 600 million people lack access to electricity and about 900 million lack access to clean cooking solutions.  By 2025, Africa’s population will exceed China and India, and by 2040, its economic output could quadruple, and about 500 million more people will move into African cities.  All of this implies a three -to-fourfold increase in the demand for energy.  Thus, how the continent decides to source its energy will determine economic transformation and prosperity of its people, and will also greatly influence global climate change.

The current lack of access to reliable and affordable modern energy is seriously affecting service delivery in health and education and also slows down economic growth.  At the same time Sub-Saharan Africa already faces a disproportionate negative impact of climate change though it accounts for less than 4 percent of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions, and about 2 percent of energy-related CO2 missions.   Extreme weather events, including droughts and floods already have impacts on energy generation and agricultural production.  

Within the above above context, the question is : how can Africa achieve its ambitious goals enshrined in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and at the same time adhere to its commitments under the Paris Accord?

Dr. Yumkella argues that accelerated investment is sustainable energy is key to achieving all three agendas.  In 2019, he has been part of several global initiatives supporting energy transitions in Africa including, serving as adviser to the Director General of the International Energy Agency, Coordinator of the AU-EU Sustainable Energy Investment Platform, and one of the facilitators of the UN-World Bank Health and Energy Platform for Action (HEPA) for Clean Cooking Solutions. 

The lecture will cover some of the efforts to achieve SDG-7 i.e. access to affordable, reliable and sustainable modern energy services for all. It will highlight the crucial importance of energy as an enabler for achieving the development goals of health, food security, education and clean water and sanitation. It will also explore the policy actions required to scale up investments to achieve the SDG-7 targets by 2030.  Other critical issues to address include, what are the pathways to sustainable development and sustainable energy access for Africa? How can international cooperation support capacity building for the right strategies and policies to be put in place to incentivize public-private partnerships for a low carbon transition on the continent?

When: 10th February 2021 at 18:00 CET / 17:00 GMT (check time around the world).

Where: online on Zoom. Register here.

You can join the lecture by:

  • connecting via Zoom platform to the lecture and ask your questions to the speaker
  • following livestreaming from the event at kapuscinskilectures.eu
  • asking your questions to speaker via Twitter using #KAPTalks hashtag
The lecture will be hosted by the Trinity College Dublin.

Reimagining ways to achieve SDGs – innovations in finance and digitalisation

Royston Braganza is a CEO of Grameen Capital which aims to provide debt financing to social enterprises across sectors such as affordable education and skill development, affordable healthcare, clean energy & innovation, agriculture, financialinclusion and livelihoods. Having a background in banking being in his earlier assignment a head of HSBC’s SME Business and Senior Vice President with HSBC, Royston Braganza was instrumental in setting up and heading HSBC’s Microfinance & Priority Sector business inIndia. Prior to that, he worked in Citibank India for over 8 years in various assignments across both the Consumer Bank andthe Corporate Bank.

In his talk titled Reimagining Ways To Achieve SDGs Innovations In Finance And Digitalisation, Royston Braganza pondered on how to respond to crises, how to make our life better, greener, cleaner and more inclusive. Keeping in mind that people are all interconnected in today’s world, he made it elear to reimagine the innovation and moving forward by focusing on two areas, finance and digitalisation. Considering the current health crisis which tums into an economic crisis and theninto a humanitarian crisis, it affects every part of life, state-wise and individual-wise. The urge to reimagine capital, whichshould be a capital with conscience. Covid-19 has distracted the norrnality but it is also an opportunity to build new systemsbłock by błock. A crisis urges to rethink values and actions and can cause a boost to build greener and inclusive life, as it has been said by the speaker: „In terms of digitalisation, it changes everything and helps to improve life. At the moment, we use mobile phones for contact tracing, whether in India, Nairobi or Riviera, the situation is the same. We use newtechnologies – solar power in Africa; AI, machine learning.

They say that data is the new oil. It’s actually better than oil because you can use data several times, and creatively. We nowneed to leam how to use it for making life better, and we should focus on serving every single person, so nobody is leftbehind.”

The speakers used an example of Grameen Foundation that in 2007 acknowledged that 400M people in India have to live with 2$/day and set a goal to bring microfinancing to 400M people via helping microfinancing companies to raise capital.Eventually and gradually microfinance NGOs tumed into mainstream banks and in 2008, through these NGO tumed into banks, Grameen had emphasised the impact on 52M clients, affecting the lives of about 300M people counting in the familymembers. Microfinancing has been a positive story, showing that one can do good and do well at the same time. lt is possible to make profit by facilitating affordable healthcare, education or housing to people who very much need it. This sentiment has been echoed in every aspect of life, including in churches and company boards. Now impact has become mainstream and fast­ growing, supporting the achievement of SDGs. Thanks to Grameen Foundation, 200M accounts were opened in a very short period in India, which was supported by the fact that 1B people got an ID, and that mobile technologycan be used. Nowadays, it is obvious that companies invest in their employees, are customer centric, reimagining the way todo business.

Royston Braganza also focused on ways to attract mainstream capital to combat the consequences of Covid-19 in his lecture, which tums to be the most relevant issue and barrier to achieve SDGs. Again, using an example of Grameen Foundation that has shown that taking a bigger risk can pay off – the foundation created an impact fund and distributed it in smaller shares of it to smaller distributors (at the moment it is a Covid-19 impact bond, which supports women artisans who get a monthly stipend and a training, which will help them to overcome the difficulties created by the pandemie). The existing models, Royston mentioned, are transferrable to other SDGs, for example to the climate: when big companies like Shell or Nesquik become funders of the bond, it should be distributed to communities through smaller NGOs and entities to fund activities and create impact at grass root level. The existing models can be scaled by awareness raising, and by creating one’s own networks.

Concluding the lecture, Royston Braganza mentioned that Grameen Foundation imagines financing the sustainable developmentgoals 1) through technology, 2) by measurement (for example, avoid green washing and rely on facts), 3) by results-basedapproach – by paying not for building a hospital but paying for a health outcome, 4) using a total ecosystem approach, i.e. taking into account that everyone is connected, and therefore we need to work together, 5) by the principle of universal inclusion.
The event was moderated by Dr Mihkel Solvak.

Multilateral action: green COVID-19 recovery

When: 22nd September 2020 at 18:00 CET / 16:00 GMT (check time around the world). Where: online. Register here to attend the event and ask questions to Andersen You can join the lecture by:

  • connecting via Remo platform to the lecture and ask your questions to the speaker
  • following livestreaming from the event at kapuscinskilectures.eu
  • asking your questions to speakers via Twitter using #KAPTalks hashtag
„If we look at the numbers, investing in a green recovery is the only thing that makes economic sense.” There is less than a decade left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made that path even more challenging. On top of the already urgent threat of climate change, how can the world come together to overcome these crises and build a better future? Join #KAPTalks lecturer Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, to discuss cross-cutting solutions for the decade of action. Her lecture will be the keynote speech at the International Conference for Sustainable Development. See the full agenda here: https://ic-sd.org/

Economic recovery in the post-pandemic world

The post-pandemic world: restructuring globalization for the global public good

How will the world economy look like after the pandemic? Will governments take initiative to reshape their economies for serving human needs? Is this a turning point for restructuring globalization for the public good? These were some of the questions addressed by Nobel Prize-Winning Economist Joseph Stiglitz in his Kapuscinski Development Lecture on „The Post-Pandemic World: Restructuring Globalization for the Global Public Good”.

Joseph Stiglitz started his lecture by saying that countries around the world responded differently to Covid-19 pandemic. The US, Brazil and India failed in their respective responses to the crisis, whereas Denmark and New Zealand did a better job in controlling both the pandemic and its economic aftermath. So what accounts for the successes and failures of different countries in coping with the Covid-19 pandemic? Are there any generalizations, Stiglitz asked, that we can draw from this encounter? According to Stiglitz, countries that recognize the importance of science and the institutions; and those that demonstrate deep respect for their citizens have done better. As he discusses in his recent book, Power, People and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent , countries which respect science, social organization, credibility and the institutions for the verification of truth have succeeded to raise the standard of living for their societies in the last 250 years. Not surprisingly, these countries managed to cope with the pandemic better than others.

Stiglitz argued that 6 months after the outbreak of the pandemic, it became more clear that the US was particularly vulnerable to this crisis due to the existing inequalities such as the lack of access to health care and good nutrition. “This is not an equal opportunity virus,” Stiglitz continued, “it goes after those who are most vulnerable. It has exposed and exacerbated inequalities in our society.”

Now, there is a global consensus that we don’t want to bounce back to where we were in January 2020. Speaking on the impact of Covid-19 on globalization, Stiglitz argued that the pandemic made us all realize, all of a sudden, that “viruses do not carry passports, they can go anywhere in the world.” However, the economic system that we have created is not resilient to global supply chains. At the height of the pandemic, the US was not able to produce masks, protective gear for health care workers or ventilators. There is a need to create more resilient supply chains going forward. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session moderated by Anya Schiffrin.

Photo: Daniel Baud and the Sydney Opera House

The narrow corridor: states, societies and the fate of liberty

As part of the Kapuscinski Development Lecture Series, Daron Acemoğlu, Institute Professor at MIT, gave a talk on “The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies and the Fate of Liberty” – also the title of his recently-published book – on December 20, 2019 at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey. 

Over 500 people attended the live-streamed event. It opened with welcome messages by Fikret Adaman, Professor of Economics at Boğaziçi University; İpek Cem Taha, Director of Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul; and Ivan Zverzhanovski, Head of Partnerships at the UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub.

Daron Acemoğlu then took the stage. He opened by saying that he would not give a summary of the book he co-authored with James Robinson, but would talk about some of its main themes, and what he and James Robinson wanted to achieve by writing about them.

He then showed an image of an environmental protest, something that would have been unthinkable in small-scale societies and early despotic states of years past. He stated that this kind of protest is the essence of liberty today: individuals can make their own choices without getting permission to do so.

To illustrate this, he showed a graph that simplifies economic and political history into two variables: 1) the power of society and 2) the power of the state. When the power of the state is greater than that of society, we have despotic states. When the state is weak, a complex set of norms and traditions regulate conflict and do not allow for a strongman to gain power.

In between, there is a “narrow corridor” where both the state and society become stronger together. It is here where the environmental protest that he spoke about earlier, thrives. It thrives because both the state and society have greater capacities, e.g. the state can take action against climate change, and society can foster change through its civil society efforts, elections, etc. In addition, the relationship between the state and society has changed over time such that individuals have gained a deep trust in institutions, and thus in the state.

Being a democracy does not mean that the state is in the “narrow corridor;” however, there is a positive affinity between the two. Democracies have more economic growth than non-democracies; after countries transition to democracies, their GDP per capita increases by 20% over the following 20-25 years. Infant mortality also drops as states invest more in education and health.

How do we make the “corridor” work? We look to Europe as an example. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, two things coincided: 1) there was a blueprint for centralized administrative institutions from the Western Roman Empire, and 2) there was a tradition of “assembly politics” in Germanic tribes, allowing for society to participate in politics.

Social norms can hinder liberty. In India, the constitution prohibits the caste system, but it de facto still exists because of a cage of norms. States need to break the cage in order to democratize.

There are multiple ways of getting into the corridor. If a state is despotic, then society must get stronger. If a state is disorganized, then the state’s capacity must increase and laws must be obeyed. Leadership does matter, and that person must immediately start building trust in institutions. The state must simultaneously be strengthened while also be more open to criticism. States need to cherish the trust to stay in the “corridor.”

Daron Acemoğlu then spoke briefly about Turkey. Turkey has had several opportunities to enter the “corridor,” but has not taken them. Society’s power over politicians has to increase, and this has not happened in Turkey. Even though Turkey has had growth over the past 20 years, it has not been high-quality growth. One indication of this is that total factor productivity has been negative or zero over this time period. Turkey also exports low-tech products, whereas it should be aiming for medium-tech or high-tech exports. This creates inequality in society, which is at levels similar to those in Latin America.

In summary, entering the “corridor” not easy, while exiting it is. It is not a gift from leaders, but something that society demands. If society works at it, and the right conditions are present, then society together with better laws can help the state enter the “corridor.”

European Union statecraft for sustainable development

He argued that sustainable development requires a new kind of statecraft, and the new European Commission has the opportunity to put the EU in the global lead of this effort: “Unless we have a strong Europe and a Europe that understands that when American leadership has collapsed, it is necessary for European leaders to step forward, we won’t be making it”, he told an audience at the Hertie School. 

According to the annual Sustainable Development Report, which estimates each country’s capacity to achieve the SDGs, the globally top-ranked countries are European. “Without question, the quality of life in Europe is the highest quality of life on the planet. It’s also the part of the world that comes closest to achieving the ethos of sustainable development”. Sachs argued that sustainable development at its core means economic prosperity, social inclusion, environmental sustainability and the rule of law. Despite Europe’s practice of importing goods from polluting countries, Sachs acknowledged its intent to comply with the standards of environmental sustainability, but nonetheless called for further SDG alignment among EU member states. 

The new EU Commission has the opportunity to become a global leader of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement. This comes with the question of how Europe can lead other countries to achieve the SDGs and how Europe affects other countries through global supply chains and other spill-overs. Sachs’ recommendations for the new European Commission under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen included introducing EU-wide strategies to target the “seventeen- dimensional problem” of achieving the SDGs. He emphasized the need for technology-driventransformations for decarbonized means of transportation in air, sea and on land and energy systems. “Europe has a big job to do because where is the goal? The goal is zero by 2050!” This technology puzzle could only be solved by significant investments in research and development, leading to a climate-neutral and circular economy. Sachs highlighted the inherent need for a new investment agenda to cope with the lack of innovation in some regions. Therefore, the EU needs a budget increase with more resources spent on directed research and development, increasinginnovation and thereby the quality of life.

The issues need to be addressed at every level of government, from local to global and require constructive problem-solving. The complexity and timeframe of the issues Sachs outlined require intensive analysis and research, as well as a multidimensional approach that includes both the public and private sectors. Furthermore, Sachs suggested that a Eurostat framework for SDG measurements and indicators should be introduced as a means to monitor the implementation of policies by governments and the alignment of businesses with the SDGs.

He recommended a shift in the European Union’s diplomacy agenda, and challenged Europe to take the lead in the multilateral environment and climate change agreements: “Europe’s leadership is vital to make the world system work”. With respect to Europe’s position as the largest donor in the world, Sachs argues that it needs to scale up its strategy and focus on attaining the geopolitical heft that comes from raising resources for development. Furthermore, he suggested partnerships with key bilateral forums: “Europe’s bilateral relations with other regions will come to be the defining diplomacy”. The European Union should partner with the African Union to endow everyAfrican child with the opportunity for secondary education. He urged Europe to commit to a sustainable Eurasian economy and to further cooperate with MERCOSUR.

Global Goals: social rights as human rights

Kapuscinski Development Lectures will open the 5th International Conference on Sustainable Development in New York City at Columbia University with two global advocates of the Sustainable Development Goals:

Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians will deliver her Kapuscinski Lecture keynote address on „Transformative Thinking to Achieve the SDGs”.

Eddie Ndopu on social rights as human rights: a conversation with prof. Jeffrey Sachs about inequality and exclusion.

When: 25th September 2019 at 9:00 am EDT / 15:00 CET (Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians)

10:30 am EDT / 16:30 CET (Eddie Ndopu)

Where: Lerner Hall, Columbia University, New York City

You can join the lecture by:

  • coming to the event in New York City (registration required, click here)
  • following livestreaming from the event at kapuscinskilectures.eu
  • asking your questions to SDGs Advocates via Twitter using #KAPTalks hashtag

The SDGs cannot be fully achieved if certain groups in societies are left out. For instance, living with a disability has a strong impact on educational opportunities and jobs, which in term affects our efforts for universal poverty reduction.

Social rights need to be developed alongside human rights

Join #KAPTalks lecturers Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, Eddie Ndopu and Jeffrey Sachs in conversation as they discuss inequality and inclusion, and how focusing on disadvantaged groups must be done when working to achieve the Global Goals.

#KAPTalks interviews: sustainability of development results

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then?  What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

Kapuściński witnessed the end of the colonial world and the development challenges of his time were mainly linked to the painful process of state building. Today’s biggest challenges are global, ie not specifically limited to the developing world – climate change, asymmetrical conflict, trade barriers, irregular migration. Therefore, the Sustainable Development Goals have been adopted as a global agenda for all.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

The development policy was born some 70 years ago and has come of age. Yet, the world community is still struggling to meet some of the objectives set back then – eg the 0,7% GNI ODA ratio formulated in 1968 by the Pearson Commission. Development policy today is rightly looking beyond the task of dealing with post colonial legacies and focuses on common global goods like access to water, limiting effects of climate change and dealing with migratory pressures. Discussion on the definition of ODA should continue at OECD DAC as further updates seems necessary.

What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

Despite white spread perception, the main hindrance to successful development of not access to funding. The main obstacle remains sustainability of the results achieved – or still to be achieved – which hinges on much more than money – international burden sharing in dealing with global challenges, ownership by partner countries, maintaining peace and stability.

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story.

Firstly, it is the appearance of new players – private donors with global outreach, middle income countries turning into donors, South-South cooperation. Secondly, it is really striking how important the security/development nexus has become and how military and civilian institutions have developed into both providers and recipients of aid.

 

#KAPTalks interviews: multilateralism helping effective solutions

Kapuscinski challenged us in his writings to see the world as it is, and at the same time to see it in fundamentally different ways to convention. Sustainable development likewise challenges us to understand not only where we want to get to, the first sixteen ‘goals’, but through the seventeenth and the broader 2030 Agenda to shape pathways to success based on a fundamental reappraisal of both where we are and how ambitious action can be effective in today’s world.

More of the same, in a nutshell, will not get the job done. This is not just because we made bad decisions in the past, but because the world around us is changing, demanding new approaches to old as well as new problems and opportunities. The fall in global poverty and inter-country inequality over recent decades, for example, largely resulted from China’s rise, a driver that will not repeat itself any time soon. Automation will reshape labor markets and the basis of international competitive advantage in years to come in ways that require different development models as export-led growth becomes less likely for many developing countries. Climate change is now upon us, and means a world of growing numbers and impact of shocks, with livelihood, security and political implications.

Actually, we are overwhelmed by solutions as much as by oft-repeated problems. Perhaps for the first time in human history, we have the science, the technology, the finance, and the know-how to deliver on sustainable development. Our greatest challenge is in how best to organise the delivery of well understood and quite affordable solutions. Our failure to organise is widespread, from weakened multilateralism, to corporate disfunction, to inadequate civil society organisations, and to short-term financial markets. The state formations, civil forms of action and the market institutions we have inherited are proving inadequate to harness the potential of our inventiveness and make it widely available. Digitalisation provides the prospects of a frictionless world of networked opportunities, certainly, But without institutions that can form and oversee equitable rules, this technological surge is more likely to drive further instability and injustice. Our vision of society’s underpinned by human rights and individual choice is threatened by the deterioration of our belief in election-based democracies, the equalising effects of information, and our capacity to sustain empathy at scale in the face of disruption and uncertainty.

 

Our capacity to organise is inter-twinned into our evolutionary process. It is more than anything what makes us able to actualise our imagination in becoming what we are, a technological species. As a civilisational building block, we exist as long as we can organise in ways that are commensurate with new challenges and opportunities. Reforming the UN is but one tip of this imperative. We need likewise to reinvent the purpose and logic of business and the state, and their respective interfaces with each other and the underlying, organic dynamics of self-organisation.

 

#KAPTalks interviews: Kapuscinski’s concern about voices of people

When Ryszard Kapuscinski was addressing development issues, the world was clearly divided into blocs: the First World of advanced capitalist countries; the Second World of communist and socialist states; and the Third World of impoverished nations. There was little connection between these worlds and even less understanding or desire to be informed of others’ conditions. Kapuscinski’s great contribution was to bring these divides into focus and to help people in one bloc understand what was happening in other blocs, especially in the Third World. Today, such distinctions are irrelevant. Thanks to social media there is a torrent of information about everyone’s lives, sometimes accurate, but sometimes distorted. With globalization, people are also more concerned with, and aware of, what is happening in other countries. There is a greater continuum among countries along the development scale. Countries can no longer be easily classified into simple categories—both China and India have space programs as well as pockets of abject poverty. Should they be called underdeveloped? In many instances, the challenges of development today are as much about the distribution of income and differences in living standards of people within countries rather than between countries.

Many of the issues that Kapuscinski wrote about remain relevant today. His stories of revolutions, coups and wars have today morphed into stories of “fragile states,” but the basic concept is the same. States without governments that enjoy the support of their own populations provide staging posts for outbreaks of violence and extremism and cannot be expected to develop. The nature of violence may have shifted from wars and revolutions to non-state actors and criminal elements, but the problem remains.

Kapuscinski was intimately concerned with people and people’s voices. He would find the idea of working for the collective good rather strange. But this does not mean that sustainable development is merely aspirational. It means that we need to find ways to connect global problems and issues more closely with people’s own lives and livelihoods. For example, it is no accident that China is emerging as one of the world leaders in low-carbon technologies. This is largely because China’s cities have become so polluted that citizens cry out for better solutions. The hugely positive impact on the rest of the world is a convenient by-product. What remains unclear, however, is whether these win-win incentives will be sufficient to achieve the pace and scale of the needed global change. So far, there are still plenty of win-win solutions available. We’ve not yet tested the frontier where real trade-offs might become necessary.

These connections between global issues and national issues must be made by leaders at the State and community level. Kapuscinski wrote extensively about leaders and their personal idiosyncracies. These could easily become the most important obstacles to development. Then, as now, the foibles of leaders were revealed. In The Emperor, he was characteristically forthright: “the King of Kings preferred bad ministers. And the King of Kings preferred them because he liked to appear in a favorable light by contrast.” Such idiosyncracies, and the personal patronage that leaders use to retain power, remain central obstacles for development, creating the conditions for widespread corruption, bribery and flattery, as well as the dimming of individual enterprise towards betterment of family and community. All of which we refer to today as “bad governance” but that was described by Kapuscinski as the lack of institutions and reliance on personalities in all political systems.

Yet despite these failings, there has been astonishing progress since the time when Kapuscinski was writing. In his long career, he never witnessed the transformation of societies in the same way as modern development practitioners have. Take the case of Lao PDR, one of the poorest countries in the world in the mid-1980’s. When I first went in 1988, Laos had a GDP per capita of only $308 according to the IMF. Small boys would turn their heads to look at my car, such was the rarity. They “fished” for bats to be made into soup in the capital city of Vientiane. Shortly thereafter, Laos started a program of reforms and development of its considerable hydropower and minerals sector. Today, in the span of one generation, Laos has achieved a GDP per capita of $2,700. Even adjusting for inflation, it is four and one-half times richer than thirty years ago. Development progress has been halting and uneven, with many of the problems of governance so richly detailed by Kapuscinski, but progress in material conditions of the people has been real: life expectancy has risen from 54 years to 67 years (1990 to 2015); expected years of schooling has risen from 6.7 years to 10.8; over one third of the population now has at least some secondary education; and so on. While still a poor country, Lao PDR offers opportunities for a new generation that were unthinkable for the last. It is being transformed.

 

 

#KAPTalks interviews: Planetary labour market

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s. Have the world’s development challenges changed since then? What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

To me it is a question about justice. There is a global lottery that some of us win and some of us lose. The fact that some of us are born in countries that have high living standards and get to benefit from that is not because we worked harder or because we’re smarter than anyone else. It is simply luck. People born into contexts with low life expectancies or high rates of disease simply have bad luck.

As human beings, we can, and we should do better. We need to broaden our sphere of empathy to encompass our increasingly connected planet. It is much harder to plead ignorance about the breadth of human suffering than it used to be. But if we now are able to know as much about people on the other side of the world as we are about people in the cities that we live in, then sitting on our hands shouldn’t be an option.

This isn’t an argument for a blind faith in 'development’. But rather an argument in favour of sharing wealth and resources. If we acknowledge that luck, due to the geographic lottery, plays a massive role in how long we live, whether our children survive childbirth, our odds of surviving disease, and our chance of finding a rewarding and decent profession, then it isn’t good enough to be satisfied with the current scale of global inequalities. Because of the luck that those of us in the Global North were born with, we have a responsibility to develop and support structures and systems that facilitate global sharing.

What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story.

With over half of the world’s population now connected to the internet, one of the most striking things I see happening today is the creation of what I’ve referred to as a ’planetary labour market’. Millions of workers from around the world are escaping some of the constraints of their local labour markets and competing for the same jobs. This has enormous implications for workers in parts of the world where jobs are scarce. However, the sheer scale of what is happening brings with it concerns about a massive global over-supply of labour power, and a consequent race to the bottom in terms of wages and working conditions.

 

#KAPTalks interviews: leave no one behind

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then?  What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

In the period of the 1970s and 80s, development was largely seen in terms of modernisation and economic growth. Key challenges turned on enabling countries to establish stable, growing economies through an appropriate balance between industrialisation and agriculture and rural development. Concerns with poverty reduction and social development challenges such as health, education and gender were growing in significance, but often marginalised. And as the neo-liberal era of the 1980s set in, the state-led development agendas of the 1970s gave way to the promotion of free markets. Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, dealing with the fallout of structural adjustment and related programs through a renewed emphasis on human development came to be seen as a critical challenge, with states and civil society organisations frequently assuming responsibility.

The last few decades have witnessed major progress in these aspects of economic and social development in many parts of the world. Yet they also reveal a series of paradoxes and contradictions. First, growth has accelerated in many countries but has been accompanied by growing inequalities of many kinds. Global income growth has been very unevenly shared, concentrated in rising middle classes in India and China and in a booming global elite, but with the poorest percentiles locked out, and a declining shared of growth amongst the middle classes in the developed world. Old industrialised countries, emerging middle income ones, and poorer countries are almost all experiencing rising economic inequalities. These intersect – nationally, and in terms of people’s lived experiences – with other kinds of inequaity – social and gender, cultural, political, and in terms of place and knowledge. Inequalities matter fundamentally because they are unfair and unjust, but they also affect other development proprities. Inequality can hamper economic growth, and certainly reduces the impact of that growth on poverty reduction. Health and nutrition are worse in countries with higher income inequality. Inequalities are threatening our democracies, and contributing to rises in conflict – and more.

Second, dominant development paths are proving deeply unsustainable in environmental terms, with climate change, biodiversity loss, land and water degradation and pollution threatening our ability to thrive on a pressurised planet. What were relatively marginal development issues in the 1970s and 80s have moved centre-stage, with growing attention going hand in hand with growing evidence of trends in human-induced climate and environmental change, and its devastating impacts on lives, livelihoods and societies across the world. Development has, by necessity, become sustainable development, and a central challenge is to find and unlock pathways which can ensure human thriving while avoiding further threats to our biophysical life support systems.

Third, the burden of insecurity, and its counterpart, lack of inclusion, affects historic numbers of people across the world on a daily basis. Both nation states and the international community have invested intensively in military security, yet conflict and violence affect many people’s lives. Many face complex, protracted emergencies in which political insecurity intersects with disease epidemics and natural disasters. We have a growing migrant crisis as unprecedented numbers of people leave their countries to escape war, repressive regimes, political alienation or economic hardship. While political participation is given more attention, there is growing distrust in political institutions. Technological innovations offer once unimagined opportunities, yet are also exposing people to new threats, exclusions and invasions of privacy.

In this context, development needs to move from a narrow focus on economic growth and poverty, to navigating complex challenges in ways that reduce inequalities and build more sustainable, inclusive and secure futures for people and societies. (i) Reducing inequalities, (ii) Accelerating sustainability and (iii) Building inclusive and secure societies can be seen as the major defining challenges of our time. Yet there are no single motorways or roadmaps to progress in this new era of development. Multiple and flexible pathways of change and transformation that adapt and respond to diverse contexts, needs and priorities will be required, supported by new ways of thinking, acting and collaborating.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

Climate change, biodiversity loss, the degradation of land, vegetation and water resources, pollution whether of the air we breathe or of rivers and oceans increasingly choked with chemicals and plastic – these problems are inextricably linked and affect people across the world. They are the consequences of dominant development pathways which have brought prosperity to some, but at deep cost to non-human nature and people’s safety, health and livelihoods locally and globally. Indeed, there is growing evidence that current development paths risk irreversible damage to the earth’s biophysical life support systems, with further shocks and stresses in store that will affect us all, undo development progress and block it for future generations. There is therefore an urgent need to seek new development pathways that are both sustainable, and equitable. These will require transformative, not just incremental change, recognising that business as usual is not an option, and fundamental shifts are needed in some of the key structures, institutions, systems and norms that shape our societies and economies, along with the transformational politics to deliver these. While this is a major challenge, it is not unattainable. Transformations to sustainability are already happening in some places and around some issues, led both by top-down international and government action and policies, and crucially by grassroots action by citizens in rural and urban settings. Building the political momentum to intensify and grow these initiatives, and to challenge the ‘lock-ins’ that block pathways to sustainability, are key tasks ahead.

What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

The Global Goals lay out an ambitious and important agenda for both people and planet, to which all countries have committed. This is a vital and positive step in meeting the challenges of sustainable development. All 17 goals are important, and it is in their combination that progress by 2030 and beyond can be expected. There are also important synergies and tensions between the goals which need to be acknowledged and addressed. For instance meeting the goal for food production could compromise the water goal if agricultural strategies do not take into account surface and groundwater needs; on the other hand opportunitie exist for multiple wins in addressing food, energy and water together. Addressing climate change goals and targets could compromise goals around poverty, tackling inequality and gneder equality if technological and market schemes dispossess local people of rights and livelihoods; on the other hand appropriate policies and strategies could address all these goals together, for instance by building on grassroots initiatives with women’s leadership, or building in appropriate safeguards. Because of these interactions, it is not appropriate to define any particular goal as the most important for sustainable development. People do not live their lives in separate silo-like goals, and nor should responsive, transformative development.

Alongside the significance of the SDGs themselves are their cross-cutting principles and approaches. The imperative to ‘leave no one behind’ is a vital step in forging a development agenda that is genuinely inclusive, and which tackles extreme forms of marginalisation – whether related to poverty, ethnicity, disability, peace, gender or intersections of these. The SDGs are also universal, applying to all countries and people. This is a is a major step in dismantling the problematic divides between so-called North and South, developed and developing country, which have pervaded so much aid and development discourse and practice. Instead, we can now look properly to development as positive change for everyone, everywhere. We can fully acknowledge and address the global-local interconnections between people and places around challenges such as climate, finance, food, and pandemics. And we can forge a development agenda that is about mutual and multi-way learning and co-operation in all directions.

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story.

I’ve witnessed and experienced many striking things in relation to development, but a story from recent times illustrates some of the themes I have addressed above: the importance of interconnected challenges in a complex world, and the importance of combining different forms of knowledge and practice – grassroots as well a sglobal, social as well as technical – to address them.

The spectre of a deadly disease emerging in a remote place, spreading rapidly to become a global pandemic is the stuff of nightmares. This ‘global outbreak narrative’ fuels popular media, and now a new wave of global ‘pandemic preparedness policy’. Ebola has become paradigmatic, topping the World Health Organisation’s latest priority disease list. This isn’t just because Ebola is a particularly dramatic haemorraghic fever transmitted through body fluids and killing more than half those infected, but also because in 2014-2015 the global outbreak narrative came true. The Ebola epidemic that began in the village of Meliandou in the Guinea-Sierra Leone-Liberia border region in December 2013 spread fast through the towns and trade routes of this highly-peopled, mobile region, and cases – and fear of them – reached neighbouring countries, Europe, the US and the world. By January 2016 when all countries were finally declared Ebola-free, the death toll was just over 11,000, with 17,000 survivors struggling with the medical and social fallout. It was a devastating crisis – but it could have been much worse. The story of grassroots and social knowledge is critical to this.

Why was this? The problem was that by August 2014, when the World Health Organization belatedly declared the epidemic to be a so-called „public health emergency of international concern”, it was already out of control, with scientists predicting not thousands but millions of deaths. The early international response by humanitarian agencies had foundered, largely for socio-cultural reasons. Many villagers suspected that both the virus, and alleged attempts to control it, were plots to repress their livelihoods and practices, or even kill them. Villagers stoned response agencies’ vehicles and dug trenches across their bush roads to keep them out. People hid and cared for their patients in their remote farm camps rather than bring them to Ebola Treatment Units, and sometimes ‘stole back’ patients treated there. Funerals were quickly identified as a key moment for transmission, when bodies are at their most infectious, and local practices involve touching and visits by kin – yet people resented and resisted the external teams sent in to conduct so-called safe burials. And as the response scaled up, so did local anxieties about it.

Really worried about what was unfolding, a group of anthropologists in Sierra Leone and the UK who had worked for decades in the region on various development-related issues wondered what we could do. We set up an Ebola Response Anthropology Platform, and established links with networks of concerned anthropologists that also emerged in West Africa, Europe and the US. Together. We mobilised social science knowledge in real-time to re-shape the public health and humanitarian response, away from the top-down approach that was clashing so badly with local values and fuelling resistance that magnified the crisis, and towards a more respectful, community-engaged approach that appreciated and built on people’s own social and cultural logics, practices and innovations.

Take funerals: our work showed the need to see them as part of a longer period of caring for the extremely sick by kin; and their social and cultural significance, ensuring people become ancestors, social faults are addressed, and matters of inheritance settled. At one point there was a stand-off in a Kissi village where a pregnant woman had died of Ebola; villagers insisted that the fetus be removed before burial, to avoid the social fault of ‘maa’, in which regenerative cycles of generations are mixed, with devastating consequences for land, crops and people. The burial team refused because of the infection risk. Mediation by an anthropologist and a local healer helped broker a creative alternative; a sacrifice that would appease the relevant spirits without the fetus being removed. As in examples like this, communities were willing to adapt their practices to balance social and infection risk; but agencies needed to appreciate their social significance to support this balancing. Such understanding fed directly into new guidelines for ‘safe and dignified burials’ with community involvement.

Or take local anxieties about the response: far from being the ignorance based ‘rumours’ that agencies initially assumed, our work showed their logics embedded in the region’s experience of development and inequalities. The idea that foreign agencies might be trying to depopulate an area to take land – or that Ebola is being spread by white miners – are all too feasible given people’s lived experiences of land and resource grabs and disposession. One of the most devastating incidents in the epidemic, when villagers in the Guinea forest village of Womeh out of fear attacked and killed a 6 person Ebola sensitisation team, happened less than 10 km from Mt. Simandou, the planned site of the largest integrated iron-ore mine and infrastructure project ever developed in Africa by Rio Tinto Group, BSG Resources and the Aluminium Corporation of China (Chinalco). Ebola also became embroiled in longstanding ethnic and political tensions. For instance in Guinea, the epidemic’s epicentres in the forest and coastal regions are also heartlands of ethnic groups opposed to the Malinke-led party in power. A politicised response by government was easily interpreted as genocide. By explaining these tensions, we were able to support agencies to tailor their messages and teams – for instance by working through ethnically trusted or neutral officials.

Our Platform directly shaped humanitarian and development strategies. It supported the UK government’s strategy in Sierra Leone, becoming a first-time social science sub-committee of the UK Government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), directly advising the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientist. Impacts included the decision to develop Community Care Centres for initial triage and isolation of cases, as a more acceptable and accessible alternative to the large Ebola Treatment Units which people so feared. We also directly informed the social mobilisation efforts of the Sierra Leone government and NGO-led Social Mobilisation Action Consortium, highlighting how community learning and behaviour change was turning the epidemic round, and how to build on this in ‘Community Lead Action on Ebola’ efforts which eventually reached 67% of communities in Sierra Leone.

International agencies have recognised this. Margaret Chan of WHO said in 2015 ‘we have learned the lessons of community and culture’, and WHO’s re-vamped Health Emergencies Programme has a major emphasis on community engagement, as does UNICEF’s new Health Emergency Preparedness Initiative (HEPI). The importance of social science knowledge has been recognised – at the invitation of UNICEF and USAID we’re now running a broader social science in humanitarian action platform, and agencies are calling for the development of social science protocols to be ready for quick use in further outbreaks, of all priority diseases.

Outbreaks and potential pandemics will recur in our current and future development era – although when and where we cannot be certain. These are part of the protracted crises that affect so many. What I think we can be sure of is that alongside medical technologies and epidemiology, social knowledge – and the ability to mobilise it in real time – will be critical parts of the world’s ability to be ready and respond, and crucial to addressing humanitarian and development issues.

 

 

#KAPTalks interviews: bold leadership needed

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then?  What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

I disagreed with Kapuściński, when he claimed: “We know everything about the global problem of poverty. What we can’t figure out is how to reduce it in practical terms. [The moment we try] there appear obstacles that cannot be surmounted, and interests one cannot go against

In fact, when I founded the UN Millennium Campaign in 2002, I insisted: we are the first generation that can put an end to extreme poverty: we know what to do, we have the resources, and we have the commitments of the world’s governments to do what it takes. But it requires political will: and lack of that was a challenge at the time – and even more, today. Political will only materializes when politicians feel they can win elections by doing the right thing: it is up to us, citizens and civil society to make these issues vote-getters.

And indeed, the Millennium Development Goals were broadly achieved, as (according to the UN SG in 2003) “There has been …most importantly mobilization far beyond governments by Civil Society, among parliamentarians, faith-based communities and local authorities.” Alas, in the present climate of growing xenophobia and nationalism, it became much harder to mobilize citizens in favor of international responsibility and solidarity and get the message to politicians.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

Everybody wants a better life for their children and grandchildren. Obviously already much of the quality of life as we enjoyed it, clean air and waters, beautiful fauna and flora, is being lost. We are failing the imperative to pass on this planet to the next generation in as good shape as we inherited it from our parents. And to care about the planet implies caring about people, as poverty is the greatest polluter. This is what sustainable development is about…

 What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

The real problem is that government leaders come to international meetings, make beautiful speeches and sign up for ambitious promises; and then take back the plane from New York or Paris home, to business as usual, instead of meeting with their Cabinet members to discuss what their signature implies, per sector, for all the different portfolio’s Ministers hold – from health to finance and trade, and regularly monitor implementation of the actions agreed.

And they can get away with this, as they are not being held to account by their own citizens and Parliaments, the only ones that can do so, as the UN cannot send the police to a country that fails to live up to its promises. There is no point in producing global norms and goals unless they are translated in concrete political action at country level.

And it is not only lofty UN Declarations that gather dust without being implemented. Treaties might suffer this fate: the 2007 Lisbon Treaty requires all EU’s policies to be consistent with its external policies, including fostering sustainable development whose primary aim is the eradication of poverty and helping the environment. But until this day the EU’s common agricultural policies continue to pollute the environment and hurt poor producers in developing countries.

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

 Goal 1 – Poverty – is in my view – the overarching goal. I see all other goals as instruments and/or issues to be tackled in order to achieve this first goal. And given the relationship between poverty and the health of our planet, reaching the first goal is also paramount for environmental sustainability.

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story. 

On more than one occasion I met poor African women, empowered by a little extra income, thanks to access to minimal resources or assets, proudly telling me that now they could afford to send their daughters to school and how that would ensure she would have a much better life that they had. These encounters never failed to move me deeply; and to make me realize that this is at the heart of what the development is all about.

#KAPTalks interviews: Global Goals need more work

When Ryszard Kapuscinski was putting pen to paper, the biggest global challenge was human poverty, including high mortality among children and mothers, widespread malnutrition and persistent illiteracy. Since then, respectable progress has been made. Perhaps the most striking statistic is that some 18,600 fewer cases of infant and child deaths occurred each day in 2015 compared with 1990; notwithstanding the significant rise in the world population over that period. But progress was not observed across the board. Deforestation, overfishing and pollution has continued unabated, jeopardising the planet’s biodiversity, and greenhouse gas emissions have soured. The picture can be summarized by the one-liner Progress for people, regress for the planet.

Whilst human poverty still requires hard work, it no longer constitutes the prime global challenge. The most pressing one now is twofold: sustainable and equitable development. The world is not facing two separate challenges—environmental and societal, with fragmentation and polarisation of all sorts—but one complex inter-connected challenge in which inequality occupies a central role. Evidence shows, for instance, that people in more equitable countries are more environmentally friendly across the board: they consume less water for personal use, produce less waste and emit less CO2.

Girl in a jacket

Although the SDGs represent a better framework to respond to this dual challenge than did the MDGs, they are too muddle-headed to be effective. The goals regarding climate change and inequality rank in thirteenth and tenth position respectively—suggesting they do not really constitute top priorities. Moreover, their relevant targets are flawed. The stated target for inequality aims to ‘progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average’. The metric for inequality is faulty because it fails to capture the entire distribution and ignores the top 10%. Inequality is not only due to the poverty of the poor but also to the wealth of the wealthy. It is perfectly possible for a country to meet the above-mentioned target and yet witness an increase in inequality. If faster income growth for the bottom 40% is based on transfers from the next 50% whilst the top 10% of the distribution are left unaffected, then the country will indeed see a rise in inequality. A hollowing out of the middle class is being observed in many a country.

The significance of high inequality cannot to be underestimated, because it influences the way people feel, think and act. We do not only crave for status and constantly compare ourselves with others, we also mimic the behaviour of others, especially those at the top, to whom we look up in awe whilst feeling contempt for those lower on the social ladder. We inadvertently internalise the values, the opinions and even the interpretation of events of those whom we admire. This can have deleterious effects on our moral sentiments, giving rise to more incivility. People voluntarily abstain from acts that are individually beneficial but socially harmful as long as others do so too. But once wealth is perceived as an entitlement to selfish behaviour, it will quickly cascade down the social ladder and good behaviour quickly evaporates. Psychology professor Paul Piff conducted experiments that show that respondents who were made to feel rich were ‘more likely to break the law while driving, to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, and to cheat to win a prize’. Other studies reveal that individual tendencies of self-absorption, bragging and self-aggrandisement are most prevalent in more unequal countries. In short, high inequality harms more than just the economy; it affects all aspects of development.

Considerable work remains to realise the potential of the SDGs. The good news is that several of their flaws can be fixed. First, each and every country must cut the long list of SDG targets to a manageable level by prioritising them to fit the reality on the ground. Second, the fuzziness of many SDG targets must be swapped for conceptually clarity, because wooly targets cannot be verifiably monitored. Third, numerical outcomes must be tailored to reflect local realities. It is unreasonable to expect that all countries will progress at the same rate. Global targets are always collective in nature, and must never be imposed on each country individually. Selection and adaptation are urgent steps, given that the SDGs have gotten little traction so far. One thing I have learnt is that development is always context-specific, driven by local priorities, local actors and local institutions. There can be no universal agenda with one-size-fit-all targets for all countries. International and regional organisations are yet to take effective steps to encourage and support member states in selecting and adapting the SDGs to their specific situation.

Finally, more fitting indicators must be selected to monitor progress. Regarding income inequality, the Palma ratio—income share of the top 10% divided by that of the bottom 40%—is a better metric because it covers more of the distribution than just the bottom 40%. In addition, all vital statistics and other relevant indicators for human development must be equity-adjusted, by attaching more weight to the lower quintiles than to the higher ones. Given the increased availability of better and more disaggregated data, it is now possible to adjust key national indicators to reflect inequalities within a country, following a straightforward methodology for producing equity-adjusted statistics. By embedding inequality into national statistics, countries will occupy a different place in international rankings, depending on how unequal they are. This is likely to generate a much-needed focus on inequality across the board, which is overdue because high inequality constitutes a major hindrance to achieving sustainable development. 

Jan Vandemoortele, PhD., co-architect of the MDGs, served with UNDP and UNICEF in various countries and at headquarters.

#KAPTalks interviews: democractic empowerment of majorities

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then?  What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

There have been significant changes in the leading approaches to development: in the agents and agencies taking charge of it, in the theories and values guiding them, in the goals they prioritize, and in the academic analysis and journalistic commentary accompanying development work. Still, the real challenges are akin to what they were half a century ago. Billions of human beings still are at risk of undernourishment, malnutrition, communicable diseases or death from neonatal or maternal conditions. Billions still lack clean water, sanitation, shelter, electricity, basic health care or elementary education. Back in Kapuscinski’s day, the world was rich and productive enough to avoid these massive deprivations but instead chose to spend its riches on an incredibly expensive arms race, an incredibly destructive war in South East Asia and an extravagant but exciting space program. Today, with global average income some 130% higher in real terms and after spectacular advances in science and technology, humanity is even much more capable of avoiding such deprivations. But this will not happen so long as a small global elite runs this planet, capturing 46% of global wealth for its 36 million millionaires while confining humanity’s poorer half to less than 1%.

While inequality remains the key foe of development, there has been a significant shift from inequality’s international to its intra-national component. While the logarithmic distance between the poorest and richest countries has remained about the same, international Gini inequality has declined as some very large developing countries have been rapidly catching up to the global average.

For the world’s poor, this decline in international inequality has been nullified by significant increases in intra-national inequality – not merely in India and China, but pretty much everywhere in the world (least so in Latin America, where intra-national inequality was at nosebleed levels even in the 1960s). So the poorer half of the world’s population is still left behind economically, still socially and politically marginalized if not excluded. But the countries in which most of them live now command much more influence on the international stage. While the high-income countries peaked at 85% of the world economy in 1992 and have since declined to 64%, China’s share bottomed at 1.7% in 1981 and has since increased to 16%. Where developing countries had little or no influence on the design of the global economy 50 years ago, they have substantial influence today, especially where they engage in South-South collaboration (as in BRICS or IBSA). Today’s problem is that, all too often, this influence is exerted in behalf of small Southern elites rather than for the benefit of the majority – and also that the world’s poor find themselves increasingly disempowered, excluded and ignored by the politicians of their own countries.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others see it as absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

The expression “sustainable development” brings together two different projects: to avert climate change and to eradicate poverty. These two projects are superficially at odds as is often pointed out by saying: “just imagine what the world would be like if those who are now poor attained the affluent lifestyles common in Germany, Japan or Maryland! Our planet would be ruined even faster.” This appearance is often exploited and entrenched by those who, for whatever reasons, oppose either project. They are quick to exclaim either that we should not vigorously fight climate change because doing so would impose intolerable burdens on the poor or that we should not vigorously fight poverty because doing so would accelerate environmental disaster.

I have two main arguments against such claims of tension.

First, severe poverty can be eradicated through economic growth or through a reduction in economic inequality (or through some combination of the two). Adopting the former method, we might seek a quadrupling of the gross world product, hoping that doing so would “lift all boats,” thus quadrupling the income of the world’s poor as well. Such an anti-poverty strategy would court ecological disaster. But then the horrendous magnitude of accumulated inequality makes it possible for us to adopt the latter method instead: to make enormous progress against poverty even without any further global economic growth. We could, for example, quadruple the income of humanity’s poorer half (from 4.5% to 18% of gross world product) by shrinking the income share of the richest quarter by merely one sixth (from 85% to 71%). To be sure, the fourfold income increase in humanity’s poorer half would have adverse ecological effects. But these would be largely or wholly offset by the ecological benefits of reduced income in the richest quarter (fewer private planes and yachts, reduced air travel, smaller cars, less waste of consumption goods, etc.).

Second, as longitudinal and cross-country studies spectacularly confirm, poverty eradication has a massive negative effect on total fertility rates (average children per woman), especially when it comes with improved educational and employment opportunities for women and girls. Some poor populations in Africa – Niger, Angola, Mali – still have TFRs over 6, while the EU’s TFR is 1.58 and TFRs in more than 100 mostly affluent countries have fallen below 2.00 (implying that their populations will decline). Humanity’s future population size is one crucially important factor in humanity’s future ecological footprint. The UN Population Division currently forecasts that humankind will number between 9.6 and 13.2 billion in the year 2100 (90% probability), with pretty much all of the increase occurring in the less developed regions (mostly in Africa). With a serious anti-poverty offensive, TFRs among the currently poorest populations would fall much faster than predicted and humanity could peak at 9 billion in 2050 and return to the current 7.5 billion by century’s end. By reducing the size of the year-2100 population by one third (relative to the current median projection of 11.2 billion) and the size of later populations by even more, a serious effort against poverty could bring dramatic relief in the struggle to avert climate change, resource depletion and other ecological hazards.

The arguments I have sketched will convince those who are interested in working for the collective good of all. The rest are, I fear, hard to convince, especially if they are affluent. Rich people are above all mobile and can use golden passport programs to relocate away from areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change or poverty (into the US Northwest, perhaps, or into safe parts of Canada, New Zealand, Chile, Russia or South Africa). And they will rationally prefer doing so over giving up even just one sixth of their income for the sake of eradicating poverty and preserving our beautiful planet. Once they will have pulled out their investments – or even have gone short – they will care nothing about the fate of Venice, Mumbai, Rio, Cape Town, Christchurch, Miami or Bangladesh.

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others? 

The fundamental problem of sustainable development is the problem of political empowerment or, to put it negatively, the problem of regulatory capture. Political power in this world has been seized by a small international elite of super-rich financiers, tycoons and politicians who, abetted by armies of well-trained accountants, lawyers and lobbyists, capture an ever-increasing share of the social product. Their fortunes and machinations are shrouded in secrecy as over a hundred secrecy jurisdictions compete to keep their assets hidden under layers of anonymous accounts, shell companies and fake trusts. Such people dominate politics in most developing countries and thereby control the basic resources on which we all depend: food, fossil fuels, metals and other minerals. They dominate politics in the United States, where the practice of bribing elected politicians through future employment or contributions to their campaigns and political action committees (PACs) is protected by the Supreme Court. And through their exorbitant influence on national governments, they also dominate international rulemaking through treaties and conventions as well as through the associated international organizations and agencies (WTO, IMF, OECD, etc.) in charge of interpreting, refining and applying international rules.

These rich and powerful people are, for the most part, not evil, nor even ill-disposed toward the poor. But they do have a special affection for their own fortunes and therefore use their disproportional political power toward defending and increasing their own outsized shares of the social product. They do so by evading their tax obligations (even in civilized and public-spirited Scandinavia, the richest 0.01% of the population – with wealth above USD 40 million – evade about 30% of their taxes on average). They do so by deploying their financial and political power to reduce or eliminate taxes on the rich and social safety and social mobility programs for the rest of the population. And they do so by organizing and supporting elaborate propaganda efforts designed to show that things are getting better and better for ordinary people (the Gates-Pinker-Roser team) and that those in power care deeply about preserving our planet and “leaving no one behind” (the Millennium/Sustainable Development Goals exercises and the Paris Agreement).

This is not to say that the global elite acts in close coordination, as part of some grand conspiracy created and sustained at Davos or Bilderberg meetings. Political, finance and business leaders often compete, clash, even destroy one another as they seek to enhance their own power at one another’s expense. Still, the net effect of their exertions favors their shared interests over those of the vast majority of the human population who are feeling increasingly confused, helpless and demoralized, often blaming unloved minorities or themselves for their economic, social and political marginalization. Though disunited, the elites together maintain a public culture and institutional arrangements that systematically impede human development and keep billions in at a level of severe poverty that has long ago become wholly avoidable.

The democratic empowerment of these majorities is the fundamental problem of development. And a formidable problem it is! Over the last forty years, the elites have greatly increased their economic advantage over the rest, keeping billions in conditions of severe poverty where they must focus their energies on the survival of their families rather than on fighting for political reform. This increasing gap is magnified by huge advantages in education and especially in technology – such as surveillance, big data, disinformation, artificial intelligence, all of which are overwhelmingly used by and for the elites. Democratic movements exist (witness the Bernie Sanders campaign) and still have a genuine chance to win here and there. But without some important democratic victories in the near future, we will slide farther into a world of extreme inequality in which the lives of the vast majority will be blighted by poverty, marginalization and increasingly severe environmental burdens. We don’t have much time.

#KAPTalks interviews: go beyond project-level development

Taming Cerberus: the new challenge of international development

The framing of the Sustainable Development Goals provides an important reminder that there is still far to go in building ‘the world we want’. To take just one example, 22% of all children under five were stunted in 2017: that is 150 million children whose current life and future prospects are blighted by undernutrition. The SDGs set clear goals on all aspects of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental.

It would be wrong, however, not to recognise the progress made since the UN’s first Development Decade in the 1960s. At the beginning of that decade, for example, and to take one country example, Tanzania, about a quarter of children could expect to die before the age of 5; by 2016, that had fallen to under 6%. Higher living standards, better nutrition, improved health care, and the impact of immunisation have all played their part. And, yes, of course, there is still more to do, in Tanzania and many other countries.

It is remarkable, however, that in 2017, there are only 34 countries officially classified as ‘low income’, with per capita income of $US 995 or less. Most of those turn out to be conflict-affected, or otherwise fragile states. Syria is on the list, Afghanistan, North Korea . . . These are not text book ‘developing countries’ with the usual problems of Government capacity and budget shortfalls. Instead, they represent a different kind of challenge, requiring large amounts of humanitarian aid, but also deep engagement in peace-making, peace-keeping and reconstruction. Development agencies need to work in new ways, often in close cooperation with foreign ministries and the armed forces. The UN, of course, has unique legitimacy in these contexts.

There is a further issue, which is that the SDGs provide an excellent vision of a desired end-point, but a rather poor road map of how to get there. Should action be taken uniformly on all goals simultaneously, or do choices need to be made? The answer, of course, is that development strategies need to be locally-specific and locally-owned. Beware, then, SDG box-ticking.

Furthermore, reaching all or some of the SDGs means hitting a moving target, because the world is changing fast. There are three fundamental drivers. First, the uneven impact of globalisation, driving political discourse in many countries as some citizens advance and others are left behind. Second, automation, which will create and destroy jobs on a global scale. And third, climate change, with mountains to climb if Paris targets are to be met, again with global consequences. This is about taming Cerberus, the mythical dog with three fierce heads, but a single body. Indeed, in all these cases, the test facing policy-makers is to manage disruptive change on a world scale: in effect to deliver an industrial revolution which manages the social disruption associated with transformation, and manages public policy and the sequencing of interventions so as to deliver benefits to all.

Can it be done? Yes, if a path can be found between free-market neoliberalism and inward-looking populism. History teaches many lessons about: the role of people’s voice, including unions and civic organisations; the need to secure basic service provision, including social protection; the role of the state in supporting innovation; and the regulatory foundation of equitable and sustainable growth. The free market left to itself will not deliver these public goods; nor will policy which ignores the need for global engagement and collaboration.

Development actors can no longer concentrate on project-level interventions. Instead, they need to look beyond the SDGs and recognise the complexity of present and future challenges.

 

Agenda 2030: Two Years In

The lecture formed the keynote part of the 6th International Conference on Sustainable Development „Breaking Down Silos: Fostering Collaborative Action on the SDGs.e World in 2050: Looking Ahead for Sustainable Development” organised by the Columbia University, Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Master’s in Development Practice.

The lecture „Development and human progress: why I believe in a brighter future” was delivered by HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador who was introduced by Stefano Manservisi, Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). The lecture is organised during the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting.

Achieving the SDGs: Lessons from the Social Progress Index

When: 21st May 2018 at 15:00 EEST / 14:00 CET (check time around the world).

Where: Magna Aula, Sofia University

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Development is much more than GDP per capita. If we want to achieve ambitious global goals we need to look at development from many different angles, not just the money in the pocket. Otherwise they will not be achieved fully and effectively.

The Social Progress Index…  What can we learn from this model that will help the world achieve the SDGs?

The Sustainable Development Goals have set an ambitious agenda for our world. But how do we get there? Michael Green, CEO of the Social Progress Imperative will share insights from the Social Progress Index to show how far we have to go and what we have to do to get there.

Global challenges, global solutions

When: 15th November 2017 at 10:00 am CET / 9:00 pm GMT (check time around the world).

Where: Aula of the Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm

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On January 1, 2016, the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into force. Over the next fifteen years, with these new goals that are universally applicable, countries will mobilize efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change.

These goals spell out the challenges we need to meet to ensure the sustainability of our planet, and to ensure prosperity and equity for all. To solve the global challenges of today we need to think of the world as one system.

Jan Eliasson, former deputy secretary general for the United Nations and former Foreign Minister of Sweden, discusses how the development goals are mutually reinforcing, interdependent and universally applicable. Furthermore, he argues that progress in reaching the goal on peace, justice and strong institutions underpins realizing all 17 goals.

Together with a panel and the audience we will discuss the sustainable development goals and Sweden´s role around them.

Introduction by Lars Strannegård, President SSE

Agenda 2030: One Year In

When: 18th September 2017 at 9:00 am EST / 3:00 pm CET (check time around the world).

Where: Columbia University, Lerner Hall, 2920 Broadway, New York City,

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The lecture will form the keynote part of the 5th International Conference on Sustainable Development „The World in 2050: Looking Ahead for Sustainable Developmentorganised by the Columbia University, Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Master’s in Development Practice.

The lecture will be delivered by President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo who will be introduced by Stefano Manservisi, Director-General of the European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). The lecture is organised during the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting.

Challenging inequalities and unsustainabilities

When: 2nd November 2016 at 4:00 pm GMT / 5:00 pm CET (check time around the world).

Wherethe Paccar Theatre, Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin

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Across the world, the rise of multiple forms of inequality, and growing environmental problems such as climate change and resource degradation, present defining challenges of our era. These challenges are interlinked, and affect people locally, nationally and globally with devastating consequences for wellbeing and security, and for the achievement of global development goals. Yet pathways to more equal and sustainable futures are possible. These involve innovative combinations of top-down and bottom-up strategies, and novel alliances between states, markets, technologies – and crucially, the knowledge and action of citizens themselves. As examples from urban and rural settings in Asia and Africa show, power and politics are critical in enabling such pathways to unfold, and shaping whether they add up to the transformational change needed to secure more equal, sustainable futures.   

2030 development agenda: from committment to action

Agenda 2030 – from commitment to action: the contribution of a renewed EU development policy

to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals

When: 20th April 2016 at 6:00 pm EDT / 10:00 pm GMT (check time around the world).

Where: Faculty House, Presidential Room (3rd floor), 64 Morningside Drive, Columbia University, New York City

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While continuing to pull our weight as the world’s largest provider of official development assistance, the EU and its Member States need to re-define our ambition as part of a new global partnership to implement the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. A partnership that involves countries at all stages of development in a spirit of shared responsibility for our common future, and one that goes beyond governments, to meaningfully involve all partners – from local authorities to civil society, to the private sector and academia. In designing the future of EU development policy, our ambition should be to do away with traditional interpretations of what does or does not constitute development, and to use instead the real challenges that our partner countries face as the starting point for providing comprehensive solutions.

We need to formulate policies that address poverty and environmental degradation together – not as competing objectives; make sure the benefits of our actions are spread more evenly, helping to address inequalities within and between countries; put the focus on women – not just as beneficiaries, but as drivers of development; and we need to bring development into the policy mix to address the great multifaceted crises of our time: building peaceful and resilient societies, combating climate change, managing refugee and migration flows of unprecedented scale. To succeed, we will have to effectively mobilise all available resources and move beyond just measuring aid, towards a culture of results, transparency, inclusive follow-up and review. By putting its wide array of tools to good use, EU development policy can have a catalytic effect in the implementation of the SDGs worldwide. It can be a game changer.

Life without water: what happens when glass is empty?

Join environmental journalist from the Guardian, Karl Mathiesen as he interviews the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate Shri Rajendra Singh. He received the Prize for his innovative water restoration efforts, improving water security in rural India, and for showing extraordinary courage and determination in his quest to improve the living conditions for those most in need.

Followed by a presentation by Stockholm University Postdoctoral Researcher Fernando Jaramillo, a dynamic debate-style panel with water and development experts and audience Q&A.

When: 3rd February 2016, 4:00 pm (check time around the world)
Where: Studenthuset, Galleriet, Universitetsvägen 2A, Stockholm University, Frescati

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Inequality – capital and carbon in 21st century

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Financing for rural development

Sustainable Development Goals: Getting Started

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Integrated solutions for sustainable development

When: 3rd July 2015 at 10:00 am CET / 8:00 am GMT (check time around the world).

Where: Aula De Carli / Politecnico di Milano, Campus Bovisa – Via Durando 10, Milano

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  • coming to the event in Milan (registration required – click here).
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  • asking your questions to Mohan Munasinghe via Twitter using #KAPTalks hashtag

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Development goals – brilliant propaganda?

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Bringing production back to development

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