"India, home to a sixth of the world population, has much to contribute to the successful realization of the Sustainable Development Goals," said UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner. Photo: UNDP India


As prepared for delivery.

Excellencies, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be part of this celebration of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s life. I am grateful to Ambassador Akbaruddin for inviting me to speak about Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy and his immense contribution to our vision of social justice and equality -- a vision that underpins the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Sustainable development was at the core of Dr. Ambedkar’s egalitarian ethos. By placing the principle of sabka saath, sabka vikas (development for all) at the centre of its development agenda, the Indian government has demonstrated its deep commitment to upholding the ideals of the principal architect of the Indian Constitution.  Incorporating the ideals of pluralism and inclusion, the Constitution was remarkable in its refusal to discriminate on the grounds of caste, creed, religion or gender.

Dr. Ambedkar understood that rising and persistent inequalities pose fundamental challenges to the economic and social well-being of nations and people. His tireless efforts to ensure that excluded groups were politically and socially empowered, that workers were fairly treated, and that every person had access to education, made him a pioneer in India and in other countries.

Today, just as seventy years ago, all countries need to continue their efforts to ensure that no one is left behind and that disparities within and between countries are being addressed. These are central ambitions of the 2030 Agenda. Despite progress, globally, 800 million people still live in extreme poverty, and many more are threatened by alarmingly high rates of unemployment, limited access to essential services, insecurity, conflict, the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. In many countries disparities continue to widen, thereby undermining human development and contributing to political unrest and conflict.

Equality of opportunity and of access -- critical to Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of development for all -- are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. India, home to a sixth of the world population, has much to contribute to the successful realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the past two decades, India has made substantial strides in lifting millions of people out of poverty and using rights-based policies and initiatives to reach the furthest behind first. At both the central and state level, India has taken steps to actively account for the SDGs in its development process and planning.

From connecting villages with roads and expanding access to financial services to working to empower the girl child; from building thousands of toilets to ensuring each child is fully immunized-- the Indian government continues to empower its citizens with tools deeply rooted in its landmark constitutional framework.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Of course, challenges remain. The largest numbers of poor globally are now found in middle income countries -- countries that have also made the most significant progress in lifting people out of poverty, many of them in the Asia-Pacific region. One in four people in the developing countries of the region are deprived in additional ways that impact their health, education and standard of living.

Many of the extremely poor live in remote communities and belong to marginalized groups facing multiple sources of social and economic deprivation. Biases in institutions, legal and economic systems and social norms are systemic drivers of discrimination and entrenched inequality.  That is the situation faced by disadvantaged groups in many countries, urban and rural, such as marginalized indigenous communities, ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities. Women and girls are disproportionately represented among those left behind.

In general, developing countries are more vulnerable to natural, economic and other shocks; the pressures of urbanization and migration; unsustainable natural resource management; and insufficient or outdated infrastructure and services. Capacities need to be strengthened for countries to manage the increasing complexities, to build resilience and to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Adopting integrated approaches – ensuring a balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development - will be essential to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

UNDP recognizes the need for context-specific support with high-quality integrated policy and programme responses, tailored to countries’ realities. In 2016, UNDP worked with our partners to mobilize and deliver close to $3.5 billion on issues of poverty, jobs, governance and climate change. UNDP is working to unlock the potential of innovation and partnerships for development. For example, with a simple smartphone app, developed by the Government of India and UNDP, with support from GAVI – the vaccine alliance, health workers along the immunization chain can ensure that vaccines reach children at the last mile. 

We must also remember that for true equality, we need more than the procedural rights that guarantee equality before the law and in political processes. Reaching the furthest first may imply directing extra resources to specific services, affirmative action or temporary special measures to take account of difference, structural disadvantage and historical discrimination.

Automation, artificial intelligence and the innovations of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ can help countries leapfrog towards more sustainable and equitable development trajectories. For this to happen governments, development actors, labour organizations and other stakeholders will need to shape, nurture and guide the innovation process. This will need to include investing in social protection and innovative approaches to improving public services.

Technological innovations also present an opportunity to transition from a high-carbon economy to a green economy, creating millions of decent jobs and delivering improved livelihoods for this and future generations.

In short, if we invest in the future, we can together realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for all, so that no one is left behind-- a vision that was shared by Dr. Ambedkar.

Thank you for this opportunity to be with you to celebrate the remarkable legacy and achievements of one of India’s great leaders.

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