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The Millennium Development Goals: moving forward collectively to 2015

In New York this week, leaders from civil society, NGOs and the business world met at Informal Interactive Hearings of the General Assembly on the MDGs. The hearings were organised as a forum for UN Member States to engage with civil society, NGOs and the private sector in the lead up to the High Level Summit on the MDGs in September. Unsurprisingly, and perhaps understandably at such an event, speakers and respondents pushed their organisational agendas in an attempt to ensure their ‘issue' gets a mention in September, and a mention in the final version of the Summit outcome document, which UN Member States are in the process of negotiating.

The turn out from UN Member States was pretty disappointing – just a scattering of countries. While this made me question the extent to which the hearings met their objective, there was value in bringing civil society, NGOs and the private sector together to discuss where we're at on MDG progress, and what needs to be done to accelerate progress to 2015. On a personal note, it was heartening and inspiring to be reminded that there are many people across the globe working hard to support change that will tackle poverty and promote a more sustainable, equitable world.

The ‘take home messages' will not surprise those who have been following the MDG reports, policy processes, and debates, but a synthesis is nonetheless useful. I have seven (not necessarily my own views, but a reflection of what was said):

•  Gender, gender, gender. We haven't made enough progress on gender equality, which has significant implications for all the MDGs. Gender equality has to be a priority, and a new gender entity in the UN system needs to be established quickly to ensure that gender equality gets the attention it desperately needs.

•  Agriculture. It is great that agriculture is back on the development agenda. Support to small holder farmers – who constitute over half of the world's hungry – is central to food security and poverty reduction and support to female farmers, in particular, is critical.

•  Transparency and accountability. Corruption needs to be tackled to ensure that resources reach the institutions and people they're meant for.

•  Climate change is having a huge (and negative) impact at the community level and we need to act. Now.

•  Vulnerable and excluded communities need special attention. Our approach to achieving the MDGs needs to take account of vulnerable and excluded groups, such as indigenous people, those affected by HIV and AIDS, those with disabilities and slum dwellers. But we must also tackle the economic, political and social inequalities that entrench this exclusion.

•  Political will is required globally to achieve the MDGs. Governments need to do more than pay ‘lip service' and take action.

•  The dominant economic paradigm needs to shift. This paradigm results in economic structures – at the global and national level – which entrench inequality. Progressive taxation needs support, and it is time to deliver on the commitments made to trade, debt relief and technology that are espoused in MDG 8.

Much of this is in line with ODI's work on the MDGs , which highlights the importance of equity – particularly in relation to gender and economic growth – to achieving the MDGs. We also think that social protection is a key part of this story, and can support accelerated progress on the MDGs. It is also in line with the findings of a report published by UNDP yesterday, titled ‘What will it take to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?'.

As UN Member States negotiate the outcome document, I do hope they take the views emerging from these informal hearings into account. Many of the people who spoke are those working hard on the ground, confronting and trying to address the poverty that we are all committed to tackling. And it is only by working collectively that we can really support accelerated progress on the MDGs between now and 2015.