In the summer of 2019, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to New York to attend and participate in the Financing for Development Forum, 2019. This inter-governmental process brings together Finance Ministers from the member countries of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for a Ministerial Dialogue around financing and reviewing investments for the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While the focus of the discussion is with the ministers, the participants also involve members of United Nations mandated bodies and agencies like United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Major Groups for Children and Youth (UNMGCY), members of civil society organisations (CSOs), other international bodies like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, International Labour Organisation and also representatives from corporations and the private sector.
The larger objective of the forum is to converge the development paths of the different partners by leveraging upon the strengths of each to move towards the goals laid out by the international community for global development such as through the Addis agenda or the SDGs. This 4-day Ministerial Dialogue around the different challenges and opportunities to funding development encompassed various plenaries and panels to present the context of the different participating country panelists and also members of the other parties involved in the process. As a UNMGCY representative, I presented an intervention in the first Ministerial Dialogue on the theme ‘Promoting Inclusive Growth and Reducing Inequalities’. Watch the intervention on live UN TV here.
Having attended the Financing for Development Forum Ministerial Dialogue, the SDG investment fair that ran in conjunction with the forum and side events organized by different institutions and organizations, these were some of the reflections (read: implied trends) that emerged from the discussions.
1. Increasing dependence of funding from the private sector
It is today a reality that the hot money and major funding sources lie with the private sector and corporations. Funding required for development work is no exception. While it is important to mobilise private sector resources for funding, the private players should also be made accountable for their actions. The balance between profit-oriented goals of the private players and social welfare should be maintained. In its absence, actions risk deviating towards profits and away from project goals. Development thus becomes a commodity for only those who can afford it. The SDG Investment Fair is specially organised to mobilise resources from financial intermediaries for least-developed/ developing countries.
2. Decreasing role of governments in financing worldwide
While the role of the private sector in financing increases, the role of governments worldwide continues to wane. Instead of questioning government commitments, there is more emphasis on bridging inadequate funding with corporate investments. The Forum spoke very little on government commitment towards development as its core mandate, especially to provide universal coverage and to preserve development as a right of all.
3. Reduced space for equal social dialogue through trade unions
Trade unions have played a crucial role in the history of work and management and have always had the interest of the masses and the working class in mind. However, today spaces for their engagement are vanishing as corporations are wary of trade unions and hence, hinder collectivisation in their organisations. But in effect, research shows that when people have the freedom to come together, engage in dialogue with each other, and negotiate their terms of work and other concerns, productivity and ownership is drastically improved. They become partners in the business and help take decisions for maximizing output. In Indonesia, ILO has been collaborating with various trade unions to improve the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) under the SCORE program.
4. Lack of social protection globally
According to the ILO, only 29 per cent people across the world are covered by comprehensive social protection. In developing countries, the number is far lower. In India alone, this number is as low as 1.4 per cent of its GDP, much lower than that of its neighbours as well. Social security is a great way to lift people out of poverty and allow them to lead a dignified life.
5. Inequalities are complex
Inequalities are rooted in structures and systems and will not be solved by merely addressing the symptoms. In India, 1% of the population hold 73 per cent of the wealth of the country, according to OXFAM India 2018 survey. In the age of technology and changing natures of work, inequalities too are becoming more deep and yet invisible in form.
This might seem like a grim picture, and for the most part it was, to see the biggest challenges we faced at the grass-roots, local and national levels, also being manifested at the global level. However, there is always hope. During the Financing for Development Forum, the CSOs along with the European Network on Debt and Development did a ‘Debt Workout’ to push for the agenda of global debt workout mechanism to be taken up as a priority by governments. There are voices and constituencies such as these that continue to fight for human rights and sustainable development. Such voices must continue in the struggle, joining and motivating others to do the same.
Alicia Tauro, Project Coordinator