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Live from Skoll World Forum 2015

With so much going on at the 2015 Skoll World Forum, it's impossible to participate in everything. Our bloggers are sitting in on many of the exciting sessions at this year's event. Read their concise notes and observations to catch up on important discussions you may have missed.


FORUM2015: Exploring New Ways of Doing the Hard Work of Development

FORUM2015: Exploring New Ways of Doing the Hard Work of Development

April 24, 2015 | 3177 views

THU, APRIL 16, 2015; 13:15 – 14:30

Could there be a bigger topic to tackle in one session at this year’s Forum? What should we do with our individual and collective energies and how do we measure success?

Getting the greatest social good for every dollar spent doesn’t seem like a controversial goal, but if the answer doesn’t fit with your paradigm, then what? The presence of Graça Machel herself left little doubt that this is one of the most critical issues of the next decade. Where do we go from the MDGs and why?

Near the end of this year, the United Nations will set Sustainable Development Goals that are meant to be applied globally. Almost by definition, this will be an unsatisfactory compromise for many. And many will over-interpret the language used. For example, the MDGs spoke of getting “all children in school.” But it took the international community years to realize that children weren’t necessarily learning while in that school. Access and quality needed to go hand in hand.

Patrick Awuah of Ashesi University in Ghana asked if there had been an open, public dialogue about why each goal is worthy of inclusion. He went on to point out that some problems are system problems and will require system solutions. A valid point, but the development sector is decidedly segmented and not necessarily set up for system improvement, particularly across multiple sectors. We have health NGOs, bilateral education projects, private sector micro-enterprise initiatives, and on and on.

Bunker Roy of Barefoot College quieted the room by suggesting that the What and the Why were all meaningless because the world got the How wrong. By not involving the rural, poor, and marginalized, the MDG/SDG process is flawed at its core. Machel, having been part of the MDG processes herself, agreed with his sentiment, but challenged that there was consultation with marginalized communities.

In the end, we will all still work to make the SDGs happen. We still need a lighthouse, especially if the dark coastline is a ragged one.

It’s a fascinating exercise to look at the pure economics of investments in education, the environment and global heath. One of the facts that shocked me the most is that there is still precious little data on educational attainment in most countries. A “data apartheid,” as Michael Green of the Social Progress Imperative put it. So even if we are striving for a goal, how do we know if we are reaching it?

What if we hit the pause button on our way to the SDGs? What if local communities, national governments, the donor community, multilaterals and NGOs rethought from the ground up how we go about international development? If we built the most effective structure to address the world’s challenges from the ground up – blank slate – would it look like our current aid industrial complex? I doubt it and that’s the excitement of the Skoll World Forum: exploring new ways of thinking and doing the hard work of making the world a better place.

Maybe the place to start, as Graça Machel suggested, is to call the SDGs “the people’s goals,” so that at the very least we remember to whom all of our time and talent should remain accountable.


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