Some Reflection of Commission for Social Development 52nd Session

Today is the third day of the Commission for Social Development and despite yet another snow storm in New York the UN is open. Today’s agenda focuses on the United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups – persons with disabilities, youth, aging and the family.  It is the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family.  If you are interested in following specifically any of these groups because your ministry is centered around building capacity and creating enabling and empowering environments for any of these groups please look at the Secretary Generals Reports as they relate to your specific social group.  You can access the documents here in English, Spanish and French.

Tomorrow Friday there will be a high level panel on the social drivers of sustainable development.  The concept note is in English, French and Spanish Concept note   A few points that I would like draw your attention to.  The new development agenda known as the ‘Post 2015 Development Agenda’ seeks the integration of  economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship. The discussion of sustainable development has tended to focus on environmental sustainability while neglecting the social dimension. Integration calls for clarifying what the social dimensions are and how they can be addressed.  The concept note in paragraph two refers to social conditions that influence processes of change.  Another term is ‘social drivers’.  What are these ‘social drivers’ in your experience?   They are social structures that shape people’s behavior and opportunities.  These social structures also affect the capacity of individuals and groups to influence change.   Social drivers are about how individuals and groups respond and adapt to circumstances, including how they cope and organize in defense of their interests or their rights. Remember the ‘Arab Spring’, or the ‘Occupy’ movement.  Yesterday I heard Mr Abdul-Kareem Al Eryani, former PM of Yemen, Club de Madrid Member remembering how the Arab Spring began in Tunisia which was one of the best countries in the region economically. Marginalized people were the leaders and women took a significant role.  There was a 10 month period of national dialogue.  Mr Abdul-Kareem Al Eryani noted that when human dignity is violated people are not content. Economic development without social development leads to conflict and tension.   The former Prime Minister went on to say that sustainable development must be balanced with good governance and implementation of human rights.  The Club of Madrid promote the idea of ‘shared societies’. Social development is as critical as economic development.  The mega programmes of the 20th century based on ‘trickle down effect’ to end poverty have not worked. People have not been empowered.

What about class, ethnicity, gender and location (rural vs urban) both informal and formal institutions, including the norms and values that pattern behaviour, and the way people and organizations interact in networks. Here I think back to the panel I moderated at the Civil Society forum and the experience shared my Mr. Jose Nunez  (See posting on February 11 and the presentation of Fabio Palacio posted on February 12)  Some tweets of February 11 quoting from Jose Nunez illustrate the point.  “Just accessing social protection can be disempowering because of ‘put downs’…  Giving people money is not enough …it’s not transformative… I believe that without empowerment we cannot end poverty…True empowerment is about how you carry yourself not how much you own… Empowerment is not about making more money or having more power than someone else.”

In our Good Shepherd Statement to the Commission for Social Development we quoted the following definition of empowerment “Empowerment happens when individuals and organized groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realize that vision by changing relations of power that have kept them in poverty, restricted their voice and deprived them of their autonomy.” (Rosalind Eyben’s paper in Pathways Policy Paper Brighton, 2011)  This definition places empowerment squarely in the minds and hearts of persons and communities living in poverty, seeking a proper balance between enhancing their own sense of agency and making the structural changes to institutions and policies that are needed for emancipation. What do you think of the three aspect of power, ‘power within’, ‘power to’, and ‘power with’ as elaborated in our statement?  How do we facilitate structural and systemic change?  Our direction statement of 2009 called us to  “confront unjust systems and take a “corporate stance” when appropriate.”

See paragraph 52 of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Click here Page 44 “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields.  We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications.  At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences.  A number of diseases are spreading.  The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even inn the so-called rich countries.  The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident.  it is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.  This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.”

The commission for Social Development and the Post 2015 Development Agenda in its multiple discussions are desiring to analyze and  understand these ‘anonymous kinds of power’ that have created growing inequalities and the empowerment of peoples.

IMG_1967Read the statement of the Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development (Margaret Mayce) to the Commission.  Access statement by clicking here  See in particular page 4 and I quote “In a globalized world too often driven by economic and financial engines, it is easy to lose sight of people, and of the Planet which serves as our one, common home.  When wealth and power are sought as ends unto themselves, there is a the danger that society can be reduced to a collection of nameless, faceless individuals, and the common good is reduced to fit the outcome achievable by private, for profit firms.   The market based approach to development has tended to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, while countless numbers of our brothers and sisters have seen their economic power, and their real power to influence decisions that affect their lives diminish.  In this regard we turn to the words of Pope Francis, who spoke of “the scandal of poverty in a world of plenty as a piercing moral challenge for the whole human community.”  He continues, “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table…there must be a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or worse, promised which all to often have not been kept.” 

Commission for Social Development Opened on Tuesday morning.

The sessions are webcast and can be viewed Here   The Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development addressed the Commission.  Move the slider to 1.10 to hear the statement. If your prefer to read the document click here

The third session of the commission was a panel on the theme of ‘Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all’

The webcast is available here  Two panelists have provided their papers: one  Dr John Gaventa (Paper is here) and the second Mr Fabio Palacio of ATD 4th World.  Fabio’s presentation is a Powerpoint and will be of interest to all of us. Click here  If watching the webcast Dr Gaventa’s presentation begin at 1.01 on the slider and Fabio’s presentation continues.  

Does empowerment make a difference?  

How does this compare with the Good Shepherd Statement to the Commission on our ministry in DRC and empowering people … Read here  What do you think are the elements of an empowering environment?  Start a conversation by writing in the comment box.

NGO Committee for Social Development – Civil Society Forum

IMG_1952[1]The link to the webcast of the NGO Committee for Social Development Civil Society Forum – February 10, 2014 has been posted.  Following the official opening of the forum Winifred Doherty was moderator of the first panel on the priority theme      “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all“. This was a very interesting panel and you will hear much about the social protection floor.  Also listen to the presentation from Lilly John, Presentation Sister from India and to the third panelist Mr Jose Nunez speak about what empowerment is.

IMG_1936[1]      IMG_1938[1]     Civil society Forum 2014     IMG_1942


 IMG_1912       IMG_1911

After lunch there was a second panel focusing on women.  2nd panel   Do listen to Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director, Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships Bureau Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations. Lakshmi lists the priority areas of UN Women  – ending violence against women, political participation and gender responsive budgeting and stated that gender equality is the biggest transformation that we must seek to achieve!  UN Women is calling for a transformative stand-alone goal on achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment: Imperatives and key components in the new post 2015 development agenda. Access the full document here.

There is also a presentation on older women.  You might find this interesting.

The day ended with the adoption of the Civil Society Declaration.  Read the Civil Society Declaration

Unanimous Voices in Acknowledging the Absolute Importance of Reducing Inequalities

Promoting Equality for Sustainable Development    Paul Quintos                                     Remarks at the OWG8                                   Feb. 7, 2014                                                 By Paul Quintos                                            IBON International

Good morning to everyone and thank you for inviting us to join this panel and share our perspectives on the question of Equality. For us, equality is one of if not the most central issue that must be tackled by the Post-2015 development agenda. 

Tackling inequality is probably the most serious challenge to SD today and more so in the future.

The grossly unequal distribution of wealth, resources and power is the principal reason for the persistence of poverty and human deprivation despite the leaps and bounds in the aggregate growth of material wealth produced in the world. Altogether, around 15 million people die every year largely due to a lack of access to nutritious food, basic healthcare services, or clean water for drinking and sanitation – equivalent to more than 40,000 preventable deaths every single day. This is not due to the lack of available resources or the limits of science and technology. It is a question of distribution and justice.

The wealthiest 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of global resources and are responsible for the vast majority of global warming and environmental destruction. The poorest 20% of the population who lack sufficient access to essentials such as food, clean water and energy account for just 1.3% of global resource consumption. The ecological footprint of high-income countries is three times that of middle-income countries, and five times that of low-income countries.

We are heartened that all of our speakers yesterday as well as delegates who spoke from the floor were unanimous in acknowledging the absolute importance of reducing inequalities between rich and impoverished, between men and women, between developed and developing countries. We are particularly supportive of the proposals from the G77 and others regarding universal social protection, progressive taxation, a focus on creating decent work for all, strengthening workers rights, ensuring equitable access, ownership and control over productive assets and natural resources, ending all forms of discrimination and ensuring equal and effective participation of all people in decision-making including and in particular that of people living in extreme poverty.

We would like to add the need to expand the commons including community-based and public or collective forms of ownership and control over the means of production and distribution. We need to progressively ensure that peoples’ access to the necessities for a dignified life is not determined by their purchasing power.
On the other hand, we would like to underscore the need to rein in the concentration and accumulation of private wealth and power, particularly corporate power. We need stricter regulatory frameworks for big business especially transnational corporations to ensure that they are fully transparent, respect human rights and are held accountable whenever they violate these rights.

A fairer international system is also urgently needed. The financial system needs to be seriously regulated through taxation of speculative flows, clamping down on tax havens, preventing tax competition, cancelling unsustainable debt burdens; and making finance serve sustainable development rather than maximizing profits. The WTO, trade agreements and investment treaties should be circumscribed by human rights norms and principles rather than the other way around.

The establishment and governance of a fairer international economic order should be coordinated by a reformed, democratic and more effective UN system. The UN can start by fully disclosing all contributions coming from the private sector and the terms and conditions of its partnerships.

We agree with the proposal to have a stand-alone global goal for reducing inequality in every country in order to raise its visibility and focus efforts in addressing it.

At the same time we should incorporate equality targets across other goals and require disaggregated data in measuring progress towards meeting these goals and targets, particularly for the lowest quintile of the population.
Thank you.

Read more about IBON International – Capacity Development for the People

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How does this compare with yesterday’s posting?


Commission for Social Development 52nd Session

The 52nd Session for Social Development starts on Tuesday February 11, 2014.  The priority theme of the commission is  “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all“.   You can read more here

In these two weeks it would be great if you could read Chapter 2 and 4 of ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis.  Access the full document here  Chapter 2 is entitled ‘Amid the Crisis of Communal Commitment’.  It runs from paragraph 50 to 109.  Some challenges of today’s world are found in paragraphs 52 – 75 .  Pope Francis says in paragraph 51 ‘… I do exhort all the communities to an “ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times”. This is in fact a grave responsibility since certain present realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization which would then be hard to reverse.’  These very processes are the issues address in the Commission for Social Development – the dehumanizing condition of living in poverty, of being excluded, of being unemployed or exploited for labor as a slave.  Pope Frances lists some of the challenges in these words ‘No to an economy of  exclusion,(53-54);  no the the new idolatry of money,(55-56); no to a financial system which rules rather than serves (57-58); no to the inequality which spawns violence (59 – 60).

“We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications.  At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences.”  In the Good Shepherd statement to the Commission for Social Development  we name those people as the people in the mines in Kolwezi in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Good Shepherd Statement to the Commission NGO 32  We choose one community to focus on but each of you in your ministries can put in your community’s name as all our ministries address the dire consequences of living from day to day.  In Pope Francis words “it is the struggle to live and, with precious little dignity.”  Further our Pope talks of the development of “new and often anonymous kinds of power.”(52)  Do you see these powers at work in your community?  Empowering people is I think one way to approach this.  Paragraph one of the statement offers a suggested definition. Can you see any parallel between the situation in Kolwezi and the words of Pope Francis in paragraph 53 “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy kills. How can it be that is is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.”  Aging is one of the issues that the Commission addresses and you can see that numerous statements from NGO’s that focus on that issue.  “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?  This is a case of inequality.  Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful are fed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human being are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.  We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading.  It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.  Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even part of it.  The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.”

These words of Pope Frances are at the heart of the priority theme for the Commission for Social Development. Read up to the end of Paragraph 60 in the Pope’s apostolic letter.  Hear the Pope echo concern for the family – also an issue of the Commission.  Chapter 4 is the Social Dimension of Evangelicalism.  In paragraph 202 Pope Francis writes “the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed, not only for the pragmatic reason of it urgency for the good order of society but because society need to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it, and which can only lead to new crises.  Welfare project, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses.  As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attaching the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter to any problem.  Inequality is at the root of social ills.”    (A note – in the NGO community we no longer use the phrase ‘the poor’ but rather  ‘persons living in poverty’.

Paragraph 203  “The dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies.  At times, however they seem to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for a true and integrated development.  How many words prove irksome to this system! It is irksome when the question of ethics is raised, when global solidarity is invoked, when the distribution of goods is mentioned, when reference is made to protecting labour and defending the dignity of the powerless, when allusion is made to a God who demands a commitment to justice.  At other times these issues are exploited by a rhetoric which cheapens them.  Casual indifference in the face of such questions empties our lives and our words of all meaning.  Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.  …. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth: it requires decision, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and the integral promotion of people living in poverty which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.  … the economy can no longer continue ‘to increase profits by reducing the work force and adding to the ranks of the excluded.”

Pope Francis reiterates over and over again the same points and prays in paragraph 205 for more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply appearances of the evils in our world!  Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it sees the common good. … It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”  Don’t you hear social protection floors in those words!

This I believe is also the raison d’etre of the Commission for Social Development where 46 member states (see the Commission Bureau and Members) on behalf of the whole  enter into dialogue on these same issues desiring poverty eradication, social inclusion and full employment and decent work. The emphasis this year is on ‘Empowerment of people’ and maybe what is lacking is an emphasis on the structural and systemic change necessary.  Good Shepherd Recommendations to the Commission are calling for the implementation of already agreed commitments – human rights based commitments,  nationally owned and designed floors of social protection, strong government regulation of mining companies; full compliance with CEDAW and ensuring the allocation of public resources to the achievement of the of aims of the commission as outlined in the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 but going right back to the foundation of the United Nations – this being its 52nd meeting.

Is your country a member of the Commission for Social Development?  Are you praying for these representatives that they take courageous decisions for structural and systemic change?  What is your country doing to promote empowerment of people?  Is your country implementing Social Protection Floors?  Please share in the comment box.