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Asking the poor what they want after the MDGs end

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Participate 2015

What do the poor want in the global fight against poverty?

Well, at least in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India, the poor got a chance to say.

In June and July, surveyors in these countries sought feedback from the poor on what should follow in the wake of the expiration of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Each of the groups outlined different ideas in recently published communiqués.

The Egypt group stressed more attention to the issue of self-sufficiency. Uganda’s urged for sustainable development and India’s recommendations focused on equality. Finally, the panel in Brazil outlined what it called a ‘global life plan’ that illustrates the interconnectedness of everyone in the world.

“We consider that “Self-Sufficiency” is one of the main issues to concentrate on at the national as well as at the international level because it is a direct  factor contributing to the protection of Human Dignity. Every person will have Self-Sufficiency when “he doesn’t look or wish to have what other people have,” write the Egyptian panel.

The communiqués build off of a series of recommendations were published earlier this year from a UN High-Level Panel led by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Recommendations from the country-level discussions and the High-Level Panel (HLP) find points of accord and disagreement. Inclusion is seen as an important part of the process of moving people out of poverty, but the communiques talked less about how it can apply to issues like gender (though Uganda does talk about women’s empowerment) and energy as opposed to the HLP.

“I’m not sure what you can read into this exercise,” says Oxfam’s Duncan Green in a blog analyzing the exercise. “[I]t is at least as interesting as opinion polling or all that superficial online ‘tell us what kind of world you want’ nonsense. In contrast, this feels like an honest attempt to have a serious conversation with those who, after all, are supposed to benefit from all this post-2015 talk.”

Claire Melamed of the Overseas Development Institute, and a person heavily involved in the Post-2015 framework development, said there may not be too much to take from these very small panels and pointed towards the much larger My World survey that reached nearly 1 million people.

“Their views are interesting and important. But we shouldn’t base a new set of global commitments on the views of just 50 people, whoever they are. It would be crazy to elevate this above properly representative opinion polling, or (and you know I have an interest here), something like the MY World survey, which now has over 800,000 responses, most of them collected through offline surveys with people who don’t have internet access,” she writes in response to Green’s post.

The My World Survey used previous research on the things that matter most to the poor to come up with a list of priorities for people to rank. People around the world ranked issues like reliable energy at home, good education, affordable and nutritious food and more against each other. The results were then broken down by region, gender, age-group and income level.

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Education was the number one choice for every group except for people over 55 years old. Better healthcare was second for both genders, all age groups, but became less important for high and very high income regions. Facebook and Google will not be happy to see that phone and internet access came in last for the poor and middle class.

The information is meant to provide world leaders with a guide as to where they should focus efforts in order to meet the needs of people. Smarter governments will take note that public goods like health education and food all rank relatively high. Governance also makes an appearance towards the top, an indication that people everywhere want their governments to be better.

One Campaign’s Jamie Drummond unveiled the idea behind the survey in a TED talk last year. His plan was to collect the data through public opinion polls and use new media tools to foster connections that will hold leaders accountable. Doing so will lead leaders to make commitments to accomplish or support the achievement of the goals.

“The UN and World Bank can do some of this but it will probably up to civil society and think tanks to lead the independent monitoring to provide the information to citizens so they can do the vocal accountability work in country. this will require more capacity building for civil society and think tanks in developing countries, for example,” he said to me last year.

Leaders will gather at the UN later this month for the annual assembly. The MDGs and what are to come next will be on the table. Despite the fact that few people who will be impacted by the policies will be present at the discussions, these recent surveys will put their ideas and voices in front of them.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.