The untapped promise of G-20

The Economic Times, September 20, 2010

Untapped promise of G-20
The News, Pakistan, September 19, 2010

Orchestrating development: The untapped promise of G-20
The Financial Express, Bangladesh, September 17, 2010

By Pradeep S Mehta

World leaders will gather in New York from Monday to Wednesday (September 20-22) to renew their pledge toward attaining the Millennium Development Goals. MDGs, as they are known collectively, are as much about reducing income poverty as removing other types and forms of deprivation such as hunger, illiteracy and the lack of drinking water and proper sanitation facilities. The rationale for the differentiated approach adopted by the MDGs is sound: income poverty is not only highly correlated with the other mentioned forms of deprivation but often the alleviation of the former can only be facilitated on a sustainable basis if there is a concerted and direct attack on the latter.

While it is almost certain that targets for the year 2015 in regard to pursuit of MDGs will not be attained, mere finger pointing at the international political leadership is not going to help matters. Rather it is time to reflect on how recent successes in the sphere of MDGs can be leveraged for future benefits; and inadequacies identified and remedied.

Such a review should start off by noting that the MDGs not only specify targets in terms of outcomes but also the means for attaining these outcomes: while seven of the eight MDGs are directly related to poverty reduction (in one manner or the other), the eighth goal or MDG-8, which calls for the development of a Global Partnership for Development (GPD), specifies the channel for attainment of these goals. This partnership should ideally involve, among others, the governments of the developing as well as developed world, the various inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), and powerful corporations and reputed civil society organisations (CSOs) from the developed as well as the emerging world. Unfortunately, the GPD has not got the deserved attention and consequently the pursuit of the other MDGs has also lacked the needed focus.

When MDGs were adopted in the year 2000, the world was witnessing an unprecedented level of economic growth. But the current situation is vastly different – the world is trying to emerge from the shadows of an economic recession. As developed country governments try to make do with reduced GDPs and therefore budgets, the prospects for significant growth in aid from the developed world seem bleak. Recognition by global corporations of their “enlightened self interest” in alleviating deprivation and creating new sources of human capital as well as demand for goods and services, as urged by Mukesh Ambani quite some time back, becomes even more relevant in these times. Mukesh is now a member of the UN Secretary-Generals Advocacy Group on MDGs.

But mere enhancement of aid provision is not enough. Progress in the pursuit of MDG-8 has been dogged by different stakeholders adopting different definitions of the GPD to suit their political purpose.

The GPD is best defined as a multi-stakeholder partnership, involving state as well as non-state actors, to address significant challenges in regard to the attainment of global public goods (GPGs). GPGs in turn may be operationally defined as values/facilities/institutions which enhance welfare for populations all over the globe. Thus, security, promotion of democracy, aid (including debt), disaster management, alleviation of climate change, food security, trade and investment have all been referred to as GPGs.

While the promotion of trade and aid as well as the alleviation of indebtedness are included in the existing agenda of MDG-8, these issues have not been addressed in a coherent and cogent manner. It is not that institutions that deal with these GPGs do not exist – for example, the WTO does a fair job in regulating international trade; the IMF pays attention to macroeconomic stability and indebtedness; various IGOs and developed countries provide significant amounts of aid to the developing world; CSOs such as CUTS International are involved in the direct utilisation of such aid for implementing developmental projects in poor countries which promote trade, better economic regulation and governance while others supply essential hardware; and corporations the world over have their own CSR (corporate social responsibility) agendas – but the lack of coordination among these institutions is palpable.

The G-20, a club of nations which has recently attained the status of a principal mover on the world stage after its largely unheralded emergence in the 90s in response to the East Asian economic crisis, can provide the much needed coordination among the diverse providers of GPGs. While people might point to the limited number of its members as implying a lack of representativeness, it deserves to be noted that these members account for 65 per cent of the world’s population and more than 85 per cent of the world’s GDP. Thus, the G-20 has been able to achieve the ideal blend of representativeness and economy in numbers, a characteristic needed for quick and timely decision making and achievement of consensus in a fast changing global environment.

In recent times, the G-20 has captured headlines through bold joint declarations by its member nations in regard to the global economic recession and the need for economic stimuli, as well as the problem of climate change. Such achievements indicate the potential to do much more, especially the ability to coordinate the diverse providers and facilitators of GPGs so that a functioning and vibrant GPD becomes a reality.

For the G-20 to achieve its potential as the coordinator of GPD, it has to be strengthened through a permanent secretariat and acceptance of its mentioned role by the various potential partners that it would coordinate. While the onus for the initiation of such strengthening and stimulation of acceptance lies with the leaders of the G-20, CSOs and leaders of big business need to constantly remind them of this hitherto untapped potential. It is only then that the diverse developmental efforts of various actors the world over can begin to exhibit the harmony and consistency that is needed for the rapid and sustainable alleviation of global poverty and associated multi-faceted deprivation.

The writer is Secretary General, CUTS International, Jaipur, India. He can be reached at

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