Emerging Voices features regular contributions from scholars and practitioners highlighting new research, thinking, and approaches to development challenges. This article is from Ben Leo, the global policy director at ONE. He outlines a proposal to use public opinion polling to help shape a global agenda to follow the Millennium Development Goals.
Last week was a big deal for the development crowd, just like every third week of September in New York City. Thousands gathered for the UN General Assembly, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the ever-growing list of side meetings. It’s a time for reflection, for examining what’s working and what’s not, for announcing and publicizing exciting new initiatives, and for strategizing about the road ahead.
However, this year is different in one very important way. Last Tuesday, the firing shot rang out and the race to craft the new post-2015 global development goals officially began. The UN High-Level Panel (HLP)–which is co-chaired by the leaders of Liberia, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom (UK)–held its first meeting. What its members probably knew going in, but definitely know now, is that they have both a profound responsibility and an amazing opportunity to help shape the post-2015 development agenda. They have an opportunity to listen closely to what the world wants, and then to put some big ideas on the table about how to actually make it all happen.
The existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) demonstrate the power of mobilizing global focus around a set of aspirational, measurable goals. The MDGs have created a call to action across developing and developed country governments, non-governmental actors, and the private sector. Their response has produced amazing results. Many developing countries have achieved progress previously unknown in human history: slashing extreme poverty and child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases; and increasing school enrollment rates. With such wind at our backs, we must continue to sprint headlong toward the 2015 finishing line.
As we brainstorm the post-2015 agenda, the trillion dollar question is whether the formal and informal UN-led process will truly capture what the global development goals’ target audience actually wants. Are these goals reflective of the priorities and concerns of the world’s poorest people? The UN is launching its broadest, deepest, and most robust consultative process ever–in over fifty developing countries, across nine thematic issues, and through an innovative web-based platform for exchanging ideas. The UN’s commitment to bring as many stakeholders to the table as possible is both refreshing and commendable.
As Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron said this week, we must ensure that the world’s poorest voices are heard. Valiant UN efforts, as well as qualitative polling-based approaches by outside groups like Beyond2015 and the Institute for Development Studies, are striving for this. But there remains a very real risk of not capturing the most critical voices–those of the world’s poorest citizens.
That is why groups like ONE, a global anti-poverty advocacy organization where I serve as the global policy director, are pushing for a “What the World Wants Poll,” a standardized set of questions that would be answered across both developing and developed countries. Such a collection of methodologically robust household survey data, prepared by a credible international polling organization like Gallup, would help to narrow deliberative discussions and shape consensus among a variety of stakeholders working to shape the post-2015 agenda.
What do we think the world’s people would say? Ten people would probably give twelve different answers and argue endlessly before failing to agree on the top three global development concerns. Or those ten people might give only one answer if they were carefully selected and all represented the same narrow interest. To get a real, truly grounded sense of what such a poll would discover, ONE completed a comprehensive analysis of existing household surveys in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and East Asia. Here are some of the guiding takeaways:
- Income- and Employment-Related Issues Dominate the List of Concerns. Roughly one in three respondents cite these issues as their most pressing concerns. Specific demographic groups, such as urban African youth, mention them at a much higher rate. In fact, issues that directly or indirectly affect jobs and incomes account for roughly 50-80 percent of households’ most important concerns. These results suggest that people will be clamoring for a post-2015 framework that prioritizes income-related issues as the primary catalyst for securing the freedom and flexibility to address their needs and aspirations.
- Agriculture and Food Security Concerns Are High. Roughly one-in-seven respondents cite this as their top priority. This finding isn’t surprising. Agriculture remains the primary, or major, source of employment and income for the vast majority of people living in developing countries.
As we look ahead, the ONE Campaign will campaign both to achieve the current MDGs and to build broad-based support for the new post-2015 development goals. These goals also must be founded upon truly open participation and transparent resourcing and monitoring. The hard truth is that political promises are only as valuable as the constituencies that make sure they’re kept. If we ask the people of the world what they want us all to work on, we will improve both the quality of new global targets, and the popular support that is the surest way to guarantee that they are achieved.