The IDS 50 conference saw Alumni not only host their own panel, but participate as key note speakers in both of the plenary sessions on day twoLuka Biong Deng (DP04) of South Sudan and Nkoyo Toyo (MAGov01) from Nigeria. Throughout the event, alumni staff spoke on numerous panels, whilst our visiting Alums also took part in lightning pitches for new books (Gerry Rodgers DP71) alongside current students launching their own web platform, and asked difficult and challenging questions in panel sessions.
How can low and middle income countries respond to the SDGs? The Alumni panel, a culmination of five country events tackling the shared topic of the SDGs brought together Roberto Castellanos (MP22) from Mexico, James Allen (MP24) from Brazil, Mary Kalavo (MAGov08) from Tanzania, Jimmy Lama (MAP07) from Nepal, and Salim Mvurya (MAP05) from Kenya ably supported by Collins Aseka (MAPov02).
The PowerPoints for each country presentation can be downloaded separately. KenyaMexicoNepalTanzania James (Brazil) did not have slides, we will ask him to share what we can learn about 'collective intelligence from termites' and about 'love from Martin Luther King' elsewhere on the platform.
Rather than attempting to summarise each presentation, I will share the overall reflections from Melissa Leach, IDS Director, who opened the discussion and the core questions that the panel were then asked to respond to.
Melissa identified that there were many lessons to be learnt from low and middle income experiences of implementing the MDGs that could be transferred to places like the UK who are now equally tasked with delivering the SDGs as part of the ‘universal’ agenda. Melissa identified 5 themes that seemed to cross-cut all the presentations, and which threw up areas for further interrogation
Nationalisation and Localisation: a common theme addressed by all the panellists was the sheer number of goals and targets. Whilst the SDGs had been developed in a participatory manner and sought to frame a global agenda, the very real challenge of implementation is now to make such goals real and relevant in different contexts and within countries in diverse social, geographical, political and economic environments
The need to approach SDGs holistically: following on from the need for local relevance, comes the challenge them to join up delivery and not to focus too discretely on different goals, but to recognise that they need to be embraced together. Identifying for example where WASH interventions can lead to improved health and nutritional status as well as having impacts on the local environment. Melissa called for integration around the cross-cutting principles of leaving no-one behind, the sustainability agenda and addressing inequality, suggesting – as did James - that a systems-based approach may be helpful. However Melissa acknowledged that despite the potential for synergies, there may well be trade-offs between the goals
Building the institutional arrangements and capacities of government: Most of the presentations called for strong implementation procedures, around planning, financing and monitoring, as well as the need for cross-sectoral coordination (see above). It was clear that there is a both a capacity and resource gap to achieve this. Melissa recognised that the Kenya situation, shared by Salim, of decentralised governance offered plenty of learning around the potential for joining up implementation at the local (in Kenya, the county) level.
A key role for the State but what of Markets and Society: Across the presentations a clear focus on the central role of the State and the vital role of Civil Society emerged, but little on the role of Business – what, if any, are the opportunities for businesses to engage? And what kind of state-market relationship can enable this? Melissa acknowledged the clear call for civil society leadership in both implementation and accountability but also recognised the challenges, as raised by Mary in Tanzania and Salim in Kenya of the closing down of spaces for engagement
Where do the SDGs sit in the public domain? Melissa raised the issue of public or ‘street’ level awareness of the SDGs. To what extent have they become part of a broader public agenda? She reflected that the MDGs had been closely aligned with the Make Poverty History campaign a publically led movement, whereas the SDGs seem to (so far) be a bureaucratic silo.
Setting out her final two points on the role of business and public debate as wider questions or challenges, the audience then raised a number of other issues for discussion:
The countries represented had, to differing extents, state structures in place, but in other cases the state capacity is lower – to what extent is there/could there be a role for regional support?
Following on from this, with the SDGs being implemented in all countries, the issue was raised around what role traditional donor countries - who previously helped create the enabling environment for the MDGs in LDCs and MDCs – would take in supporting wider implementation of the SDGs beyond their own borders?
In response to James, who talked about the need for investing in relationships and the role of love, Robert Chambers discussed the idea that ‘words’ and ‘labels’ shift over time and new narratives and words emerge. He acknowledged the need to focus on relationships and reflected on the importance of love and emotion in such relationships.He then asked the panel how they felt IDS should change?
Our panel shared their responses, deliberating the role of business as ‘job creation’ or via Corporate Social Responsibility to deliver the sustainability agenda and stay mindful of biodiversity; recognising that Civil Society is a critical partner in SDG implementation and are needed more than ever to inspire action; through an exploration and critique of the role of ‘love and emotions’ in building thinking and feeling relationships and the need to invest in processes/relationships which swing the focus away from individualised technical and quantifiable ‘results’; and finally to the ‘street level’ debate. There are opportunities to connect with street level issues, but did the MDGs really get onto people’s everyday agenda? and how can they be connected with the 'real' street agenda?
The conversation on love, feelings and emotions threaded its way through the rest of the day and into Melissa’s closing words “love & emotion gets connected with the intellectual in something called passion & we have an abundance of that!”
Meanwhile, on my way home the following video appeared on my facebook feed – is this what we mean by street level politics for the SDGs?