Our Perspectives

How will the world we shape affect their lives?


Mong womanSung Thi My, 18, hopes that, unlike her, all her children will have the opportunity to go to school, to get better jobs, and to have a life she could only dream about. Photo: Nguyen Viet Lan/UNDP Viet Nam

Can an 18-year-old living in one of the world’s most remote places have a say in how the world is shaped?

I met Sung Thi My during a field visit to the mountainous province of Yen Bai, where we were surveying people about the world they want in 2015 and beyond.

The UN’s MY World survey is aimed at capturing people’s voices, views and priorities so world leaders can be informed, as they define the next set of global goals.

At 18, Sung was already married and had an 18-month-old daughter. She had never gone to school, and had never been to the local health care clinic.

Sung – a member of the Mong tribe – told me she had given birth to her child at home, with the help of her husband. This is the way most Mong women give birth, she said. A month after the delivery, she was back tilling the fields with her baby tied behind her back.

What did she want to change in her little corner of the world?

For herself, her ask was modest. She said she planned to have two more children and hoped she would be able to stay home longer after delivery.

For her children, her dreams were bigger and bolder. She hoped that, unlike her, all her children would have the opportunity to go to school. To get better jobs, to have a life she could only dream about.

What was striking about Sung’s aspirations was that they reflected the aspirations of a majority of the more than 4000 Vietnamese people who participated in the My World survey.

The top three results of the survey? 77 percent of Vietnamese people said they desired a good education, 57 percent said they wanted access to better healthcare, and 50 percent wanted honest and responsive government.

In September, leaders of the world adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will define the global development agenda for the next 15 years.

Will they meet the aspirations of Sung and the Vietnamese people?

I am confident that they will, but at the same time, I am struck by the enormity of the task that faces the world. I am left wondering about how this new development agenda and the SDGs will be rolled out in each country.

The 15-year implementation of the recent Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) helped Viet Nam reduce poverty and improve basic health and education. Between 1993 and 2008 some 43 million people, over 45% of Viet Nam’s population, have exited from poverty.

However, the progress is unequal at sub-national level and across population groups, most notably ethnic minorities. The job is unfinished for many people.

Who will be responsible for ensuring the effective implementation of the new SDGs? Will we achieve them? Will we need a new set of goals beyond 2030 if we fall short?

And I wonder about Sung and her children. Will she have the time to care for them? And will they have the opportunities she dreams for them? How will the world we shape affect their little lives?

In my time in development, I have learned that it takes the proverbial village to bring about positive change. Millions across the world have had a say about the world we want, but we need to do more now. Every one of us must work to ensure these goals are achieved.

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