Why the last 50 years are key for the next 15
Of the five decades that UNDP celebrates this year, I have lived half of them in the organization, in different roles.
Our story began focusing on world poverty, on the most at-need women and men in the post-colonial era, with the emergence of new, independent countries beginning to trace their own paths to prosperity.
In Latin America and the Caribbean we have supported many countries in their transition to democracy, also in various national truth and justice commissions and strengthening institutional capacities. Our partnership with governments, civil society and the private sector has also been crucial to innovative public policies and job creation initiatives that have helped improve the lives of millions of people.
Looking back 50 years, the concept of development has shifted.
There was a change in the “what”, and today it is evident that economic growth is not enough: the gains have to be in the social, economic and environmental realms — leaving no one behind. If it’s not sustainable, it’s not development.
The “how” has also changed. We no longer speak in terms of development “aid”. It’s all about “partnerships” for development. And the traditional “north-south aid” concept has opened essential space for south-south cooperation.
The past 15 years in development were all about the Millennium Development Goals, tailored for developing countries. In general, Latin America and the Caribbean, mainly composed of middle-income countries, met this agenda. It grew, reduced the number of people in poverty by more than 90 million and registered tremendous progress, especially in education and health, with large investments and innovations in social policy. It was the only region that reduced income inequality over the past decade.
Now, boosting resilience has to be a central focus of our work. Despite the progress, UNDP estimates that more than 220 million people, a third of the region’s population, live in limbo: they are not classified as poor (living on less than $4 a day) but have been unable to reach the middle class (living on more than $10 a day).
These are the vulnerable men and women in our region. In the case of an external shock — whether financial, a natural disaster or a serious illness in the family — they risk falling into poverty. A “cushion” is needed to keep up with times of crisis: decent work, social and health insurance and owning assets, such as a home, are a few examples.
The new Sustainable Development Goals, which all countries, from the richest to the poorest, begin to implement this year, also require new ways of thinking in public policies. We are moving away from the idea that each ministry looks after an isolated part of a scheme: health, education, housing, food or work. It is an opportunity to rethink progress, in its multiple dimensions.
People’s well-being means a lot more than living above or below an international poverty line. It’s more than income. That’s why we are focusing on “multidimensional progress” in our upcoming Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean, with an SDG implementation entry point for each country in our region, according to their specificities and needs.
Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in our region must mean reaching out to the most disadvantaged groups, such as indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, women (especially in rural areas) and youth. It is time to face exclusion beyond the economic aspects, reaching populations that have not benefited from last decade’s boom and whose situation reflects historical gender, race and ethnic gaps.
This is a time of great challenges, but also opportunities.
A longer version of this post is avialable on Devex.