Communicating for the post 2015 Development Agenda

We are now only about half a year away from January 2015, when the world should start the process of reviewing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Judging from all the preparations that are already underway through the United Nations and other important entities around the globe, we await the new opportunity to articulate clear goals and targets for the post-2015 Sustainable Develop- ment Goals. We have so far witnessed a paradigm shift in the objectives and activities of the development world since 2000 when the MDGs were first established. There has also been a proliferation of the media with conside- rable “new media “activities that continue to rise.

UNESCO has referred to “media” as the “technical platforms and social arrangements that enable human communication, particu- larly in regard to public issues.» The media is regarded as a limited number of platforms and specialized institu- tions that are built around them. At present, the Internet and mobile phones have opened the field to individuals, groups and a wide range of other social organizations. There is also the rising influence of civil society in their involvement in development issues at large, be it in edu- cation, health, water and sanitation, other social deve- lopment sectors, as well as in politics and economics. In some quarters, institutional powers are struggling to interact meaningfully with what we may refer to as the new “people power” paradigm. Media users are calling for freedom of expression, and the correlative of press free- dom. UNESCO, therefore, argues that a free, pluralistic and independent media must become part and parcel of the new post 2015 development agenda.

The fact is that economic and social development cannot be sustained without the involvement of the media. 

In the current African context, and as we shift to the set- ting up of new goals for sustainable developments, we continue to witness some serious challenges. The global economic and financial crises have placed governments’ role under heavy pressure by forcing radical interven- tions into economies. At the same time, these have also revealed the extent of long-term unsustainability of so- cial programmes including in education. The same goes for our development partner organizations and civil society bodies, which are also facing significant challenges. Sources of funding have become unstable, while we see a multiplication of de- mands for accountabi- lity, transparency and measurement of impact. At the same time, political and social legitimacy is becoming increasingly fragile. In this context, we see more stakeholders being engaged in global development efforts, with new approaches mul- tiplying, and the need for coordinated action growing accordingly.

On the other hand, the language and mind-set have begun to change with the private sector about how to address some of our development challenges. Many Chief Execu- tive Officers or CEOs in business enterprises in African countries are increasingly embracing leadership roles in development, and operational staffs are becoming more conscious of the risks and opportunities that stem from activities that bear on issues such as human rights, free- dom of expression, social development and sustainability.

The African continent is said to be having an impressive growth rate with economies growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world, with at least a dozen expanding by more than 6 per cent a year for six years or more. We, therefore, have every reason to ensure that this post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals rightly reflects the current contexts. According to UNESCO, the term “sustainable development” is widely understood as a ho- listic view of processes which promote optimum linkages between economic growth and issues such as poverty reduction, social mobility, social cohesion, environmental protection, gender equality, peace and political stability amongst others. In September, 2013, the United Nations started an extensive public consultation on the future development goals. Over 200,000 people were consulted on their opinions on the new development agenda over a six months period. This resulted in a rising importance of stakeholders beyond national governments. In February, 2014, almost 200 civil society organizations joined hands to urge the UN Open Working Group on the post 2015 development agenda to put government accountability and independent media at the centre of a new framework for global development.

Despite these efforts, however, significant gaps in enga- gement remain. Both civil society and the private sector have not been adequately represented on the UN’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In ad- dition, the perceptions of differential treatment between sectors in the consultation process left much to be desi- red. Another challenge has been the laxity to meaning- fully involve other vulnerable groups – such as indigenous communities, people with disabilities, women, youth and others living in extreme poverty – whose lack of a voice has prompted the need for a coherent framework for de- velopment.

We should not only measure success in terms of inclusi- veness and comprehensiveness. We should also examine more closely and critically how we can develop more effective multi-stakeholder partnerships as well as sha- red spaces of engagement at the local level. Mechanisms must, therefore, be put in place and well established for better information dissemination, and communication and coordination. In this respect, much more needs to

be done to ensure that deep, strategic partnerships pro- liferate and succeed. Our Governments, businesses and partner development organisations, should henceforth be willing and ready to engage with civil society organiza- tions and social movements. This should be in terms of real partnerships in implementation, in addition to on- going consultation and other transactional relationships. Likewise, as business roles shift to becoming more socially focused, and public budgets bear on bilateral funding agreements, civil society and development partner orga- nizations will necessarily have to be more open to and focused on building relationships that go far beyond fi- nancial support.

All of this will require building trust among stakehol- ders, without necessarily desiring or expecting complete alignment among potential partners. Such partnerships become more meaningful when the various stakeholders are enabled to play their respective “constructive challen- ger” roles on the important issues. Open communication will oblige all partners and participants to innovate conti- nually in finding new opportunities to meet the needs of the voiceless. A clear focus on the right to information will promote participatory development. Better quality and greater availability of information would lead to im- proved allocation of resources and more informed deci- sion making by all. Information intermediaries such as the media will assist governments and people communicate, organize, structure and understand data that is critical to development.

In order to achieve a real multi-stakeholder effort in development along these lines, civil society, government, business and development partner organizations must continue to pursue ways of increasing trust, transparency and accountability in their shared commitment to the post-2015 agenda. In addition, mechanisms must be fir- mly entrenched to ensure that private sector accounta- bility in post-2015 partnership processes will play their crucial role in ensuring that inter-sectoral collaboration achieves the ultimate goal of saving and improving the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans.