2015: The Great Big Year of Development

by Jyotsna Venkatesh

This is the big year for development. The one that comes once-in-a-career lifetime. At least that was the sentiment shared during the Manion Lecture hosted by the Canada School of Public Service this past week on May 26, 2015. It is true – this is a big year for development. It was also a big year for development when the Millennium Development Goals were decided a whole 15 years ago. But this agenda is different. The Sustainable Development Goals seek to address global development issues across developing and developed economies alike, in the effort to rightfully acknowledge the global civilization that encompasses all countries around the world.

There is renewed hope for the new agenda to breathe life into international development again, fatigued by crisis, a lack of funds and waning interest in the Western hemisphere. There is also plenty of criticism plaguing the new agenda – most prominently this scathing review of the SDGs by the Economist. Whatever your perspective on the new agenda is, if you intend on pursuing a career in international development, it’s in your best interest to pay attention to these goals. And to this year.

It’s already June. The goals have been in discussion and have pushed through several drafts to this point. A bit of heads up on what’s coming: The Third International Conference on Financing for Development is taking place in Addis Ababa, July 13-16; the UN Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda is taking place in New York, September 25-27; and the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) is taking place in Paris, November 30 – December 11, 2015.

Other than to provide a friendly public service announcement to all my fellow development friends (sorry other clusters, although all this stuff is just as important for you), and to give a big heads up to the incoming first years (you know, in case you’re as clueless as I was this past September), I just want to share a little of two events I went to last month in case you were not able to attend and/or are interested in Canada’s role in all of this craziness.


I already mentioned the Manion Lecture that took place on May 26, featuring keynote speaker Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme whose talk was titled, Sustainable Development in the 21st Century: Building a Better World for All. The other event I will be referring to is the pre-conference public event part of “International Cooperation Days 2015”, hosted by the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association of International Development Professionals (CAIDP) that took place May 12, 2015. Anything mentioned regarding either of these events is a product of my scribbles on a sketchy notepad, so take what you will. Seriously.

helen clark

Helen Clark, UNDP

Both events addressed the new upcoming sustainable development agenda – one from an international perspective and the other from a Canadian perspective. In a nutshell, Helen Clark rallied for the new SDG agenda, stating that it is “bigger, bolder and transformational”. She acknowledged the immense difficulty (but was still wildly optimistic) of financing the new agenda. According to her it will require: higher amounts of ODA, extreme growth in LDC’s, private sector involvement and a collective annual investment of about $3.4 to $4.5 trillion. It will also requires serious commitment from public service in all countries, citizen engagement, ethical/effective governance, capable institutions, and rigorous monitoring and evaluation.

Easy right?

How is our government handling it? Or planning on handling it? Well, we’re not doing great according to our very own Professor Samy, one of the panel members at the “International Cooperation Days 2015” conference. Canada is basically an average player in international development, with a sub-par environmental record. Though, our migration game is saving us some face. Prof. Samy’s view is that we can do better, think beyond aid and address the very important issue of fragile states. The other members of the panel represented the McLeod group and had some interesting points to make as well. They were clearly in favour of the SDGs, suggesting that it is basically reads like a universal policy platform. Development is moving towards becoming a contract between a government and its people. The issue now is to fill the vacuum being left by Western donors. The South will need to lead much of the fight to improve development around the world. Which is of course one of the reasons the SDGs propose to be effective – it seeks to consult with all countries.

Interestingly, earlier that day, the panel witnessed each party’s platform addressing the development agenda within the Canadian context. All members of the panel seem to have the same reaction: the Conservatives are complacent, the Liberals are fuzzy at best about development and the NDP seemed to have the most articulate plan but still had some ground to cover to really address the SDGs (and I stress again that these are directly from my notes…I am so non-partisan…). It will be interesting to see how this is further framed closer to Election Day.

One thing is clear. In order to really achieve the SDGs, we will need to undergo a drastic change, something that fundamentally changes the very core of our economic framework and the way we live our lives. I see countless problems with the new agenda, but I also see the need for a new plan. We definitely need a new plan. This may or may not work, but we’re in it for the long haul, so we might as well rally together, stay realistic and bring some world altering ideas to the table. Or $4 trillion, if you have that lying around.


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