This is a report of a CIGI-International Red Cross and Red Crescent Society project workshop, held in Geneva on February 14-15, 2011, to solicit ideas and suggest directions for developing a post-2015 development paradigm. The ideas contained herein will feed into ongoing research. The report is an informal document.


Toward a Post-2015 Development Paradigm (1)

14-15 February 2011

Hosted by IFRC and CIGI, Warwick Hotel, Geneva



The International Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) Societies and The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) convened distinguished development experts from around the world to discuss a post-2015 development paradigm in Geneva, February 14–15, 2011.

The purpose of the meeting was to solicit ideas to reframe the debate on development, and provide some concrete propositions re post-2015 goals and targets. We discussed how, working with societies with different value systems, to create a more intellectually honest and more internationally agreed framework for development — not one designed in the North and imposed on the South. We debated whether the primary focus should be on poor people living better lives or on making progress on complex international issues. We discussed the need to give people more agency and involvement over their own futures, and give a voice to the voiceless.

The ideas we formulate will be fed to the United Nations (UN) High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, which is tasked with finding a new blueprint for a sustainable future. Our ideas will also be delivered to the preparatory processes for the IFRC General Assembly in November, the G20 work on development and the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio 2012).

Next steps

Moving forward, there are several key questions to be addressed:

  • To what extent should we expand beyond development goals to include dimensions of global challenges such as climate change? Should the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) include system changes like trading rules, access to markets and obstacles like capital flight, brain drain and arms exports?
  • How can we include enabling factors? How can we deal with security and with empowerment/rights?
  • What should the mix be on input versus output/outcome goals? Qualitative versus quantitative indicators?
  • How do we ensure that poor people benefit?
  • What methods should be pursued to consult with the poor? Can we do surveys at the country level, at least for representative countries, to get a sense of current development issues and the views of diverse groups? (Any survey should ask people about what they perceive as development problems in their home community.) Should there be focus groups or a census at the village level?
  • With respect to measuring progress to provide for accountability, can we design an international peer review mechanism to track national action? Can the World Bank, UN Development Programme, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the European Commission work together with bilateral donors and develop a common approach?
  • Do we have advice on the UN process to gain agreement on the post-2015 framework?


The conference was organized into three sessions: (i) what are our premises?; (ii) what should succeed the 2015 MDGs?;1 and (iii) how should the post-2015 framework be selected? This report summarizes the discussions that ensued and presents options for moving forward.

The MDG approach has no doubt made a positive difference in terms of rallying the world behind a moral purpose, serving as a useful planning tool and catalyzing increased investments in certain focused areas. However, periodic reviews have indicated mixed progress and, on current trends, several of the MDGs will likely not be realized substantially or in part. The MDGs are criticized because they do not address global problems such as inequality, failing states, lack of democracy, unbalanced trade and climate change — and even if they are met, there will still be more than 900 million people living on less than $1 a day. The question is whether the current development paradigm needs a rethink.


The discussion addressed acceptable options for a successor framework. We asked if there was an agreed set of assumptions and rules for how a successor paradigm should be formulated and approved. What would be legitimate and effective governance mechanisms? What are the options that could be in a successor framework?

We addressed a list of questions:

  • Should the post-MDGs agenda look like the MDGs we have now?
  • Recognizing that we cannot be exhaustive, how many goals should there be? 
  • Are the MDGs about ends only or do we design the goals to include the means?
  • While we must maintain measurability, what about quality considerations?
  • Goals must be feasible, but how do we maximize the aspirational dimension?
  • How do we embed equality of opportunity?
  • Should we include interim targets?
  • Before we get to goals, targets and indicators, given that there are different views of well-being, are we after a devolved version of well-being, derived perhaps from a deliberative dialogue using new technologies?
  • Should the focus be on extreme poverty and hunger, or on (much tougher to come to agreement) global challenges everybody faces?
  • Should there be a goal on food security, communicable diseases, atmospheric carbon, equality or population growth (reducing fertility growth to 2.2 replacement)?
  • Should there be goals on foreign direct investment (FDI), access to finance, anti-corruption, improved life for slum dwellers, trade access (quota and tariff free), connectivity (information and communication technologies [ICT], electricity, transportation) and brain drain?
  • Should the current health goals be consolidated into one goal?
  • How do we introduce sustainability considerations?
  • Is it too ambitious (too aspirational) to include military expenditures (since the arms industry is the largest in the world, distorting development)?
  • What do the populations of emerging economies think about becoming donors?

We started from the premise that development must be about equity and equality. There is a huge gap in the international architecture. Despite progress, there must be a better way of doing business. More of doing the same within the same system is not satisfactory. A debate is needed on the values that underpin ideas of development. The liberationist view of development is that people are asking for more respect, more involvement and more agency over their own future. Development and the aid debate need to be delinked; the two are confused. Aid is more and more irrelevant, more and more marginal — it is not the answer.

Participants had little good to say about official development assistance (ODA) as a driver of development. One argument was that “development” will have to be redefined both for “developed” and “developing” countries — the current lifestyle of the rich is unsustainable, vis-à-vis climate change, demographic transitions, rising expectations. So, the task is to redefine development paths and objectives for all types of countries (away from just growth and income), and to set goals’ targets that are more balanced and symmetric for all types of countries.2


Development needed to be reframed not as material gains, but as freedom: achieving a certain level of human dignity, rights and equality, and perhaps measured in terms of ensuring no one lives below a certain minimum standard.  Development processes must better enshrine the values of the Millennium Declaration that underpinned the MDGs: freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility.3 The focus should not be on “helping” countries to develop, but ensuring enabling factors (in critical processes that signify a higher participation by people in the things that affect their everyday life), and dealing with systemic and structural conditions that constrain development in the poorer regions of the world. These include trade barriers, access to markets, the arms industry, brain and capital drains; and, on a local level, corruption and non-participation of broad segments of society.

Frequent reference was made to the role of the state, its value and ability to resolve societal problems, especially in developing countries. We were reminded that lower-income people have very little expectation of the state, and they are usually looking for non-interference in their attempt to meet their basic needs; whereas middle- and higher-income people are looking for income or resource returns. Our tendency to take a state-centric approach to development requires review. Furthermore, questions arise regarding the accountability of the state in the rapidly changing global context. Ideally, a state should mobilize a vision for where it wants to go and where its citizens want to be, and then create a framework for cooperative management of delivery. Given the critical role of the state in development, new accountability measures are needed to confront pervasive corruption and undemocratic political processes.

Points that were made included:

Global trends:

  • We must account for the changing context of poverty. In1990, 93 percent of the poorest were in least developed countries (LDCs), but now the numbers are 28 percent in LDCs and 72 percent in middle-income countries.
  • The planet is in peril; while growth is essential for the poor, the current development path is unsustainable, Massive structural system changes are required.
  • The exporting of capital from the South underlines the structural root of poverty.
  • What the development dialogue will look like depends on events in Iran, North Korea, Israel and Palestine, and Pakistan in the next five years. On the other hand, agreement on post 2015 will need buy-in from China, India and Brazil, as well as an understanding by developed countries concerning unsustainable lifestyles.
  • Humanitarian assistance for disaster relief used to be 1 or 2 percent of ODA. Now it’s 10 to15 percent. Migration of climate change refugees will compete for development funds.
  • In emerging economies, views on becoming donors differ. China is not transparent about its aid because there is no public support for it.
  • Something big is going on in social networking that links people together that may be able to mobilize people around a common agenda.

Political realities: 

  • The MDGs were a success, providing a sense of purpose and a feeling of achievement.
  • We cannot stray too far from the existing paradigm; the central goal must be eradicating poverty (in a sustainable fashion). Extreme poverty is morally unacceptable and a source of insecurity for everyone. We must recognize the potential of people; the poor should not be treated as objects of charity.
  • Growth is essential. We must formulate goals for the conditions that enable growth; the private sector has a key role. But balance has been lost in the intellectual property regime. Investment treaties have decreased policy space for governments.
  • Helping poor countries is going to be a hard sell. The OECD economies were described, tongue in cheek, as “submerging economies” in contrast to the emerging economies.
  • A state-centric solution does not “jive with reality.” New governance arrangements now must provide space for the private sector and civil society. Effective democratic participation is a long-term effort; consultations must be seen to apply the feedback. It means devolving to local and community levels the responsibility and resources to plan and make decisions.
  • Countries are pushed beyond their ability to implement internationally negotiated commitments because they have to take them home, where the commitments compete against other priorities. International agreements are specialized, not integrated in development plans.
  • Nevertheless, a strong, properly motivated state is indispensable to kick-starting sustainable development and preventing undue inequality, especially in the early stages of development.
  • In terms of legitimacy (it is impossible to overemphasize the UN capacity for jealousy), we must embed the exercise in the UN.
  • Not everything has to be agreed by everybody. The Hyogo Framework, sanctified by UN General Assembly, provided a system and framework to which people can subscribe.
  • MDG 8 (Develop a Global Partnership for Development) is a mess — there is no metric or deadline; it was never accepted by the US. No one wants to talk about it.
  • We should confront the fact that rich countries do not want to stop consumption of drugs, but insist on poor countries combatting production and export.

Post-2015 goals:

  • There should be MDGs on empowerment, transparency and on accountability.
  • There was a sense that we are going to have to do better than the MDGs with a new overarching framework. Criticisms of the MDGs include inadequacy as a communications tool (it must be simpler), their lack of concreteness despite their number, their misuse by Western politicians, who make significant promises that are not believed and for which they are not held accountable.
  • We should have definite global goals and consistent measurement of local and regional progress, but targets should be set nationally and subnationally.
  • At the local level, we must deal with corruption and the non-participation of elements of society. Transparency International ranking and OECD league tables can galvanize competitive spirit.
  • Development should be framed as freedom and justice — a persuasive, forward-looking story — with the interaction of economic growth and the Human Development Index, centering on education and market access.
  • The current prevailing paradigm is an endowment perspective — “get the institutions right and get out of the way.” An alternative would be an evolutionary perspective, providing the ingredients for development — education, infrastructure, capacity building and better global rules to stimulate growth.4
  • One approach is to frame future goals as minimum standards below which no one should fall beyond a certain date.
  • Find something that links citizens of the North and the South that could be a game changer.
  • The post-2015 framework should be composed of provisions on rights, environment, accountability, equality and structural needs.
  • We have to do a better job on inequality, disaggregating by more than age, sex and urban/rural. The Gini coefficient5 is inadequate.The Gini coefficient can mask the inequality because you can see a greater percentage of income going to the middle class, but the poorer people are still poor.
  • We should introduce a gender Gini index.
  • While we should focus on the domestic and international bottom 10 percent in every goal, there is a danger in just pro-poor targeting. We need inclusive growth with an equality dimension; the poverty reduction agenda is not ambitious enough.
  • FDI could be part of the future answer if we could improve the capacity of poor countries to negotiate, reduce corruption and non-accountability.
  • Re a goal on connectivity, be cautious about transport. “For example, a road through the Amazon?”
  • Do not limit our vision to only things that we think are measurable; on the other hand, there are ingenious measures for most qualitative goals.
  • Measuring: just because you can measure something doesn’t mean it’s important, and hugely important things cannot be measured. Focusing on quantity may “lose the whole ball game,” for example, masking a terrible student/teacher ratio and the fact that students spend only two to three hours per day in class. Quality, rather than availability of services is the issue. Poor people pay so much more for “available” services. Richer people run the system.
  • The quality versus quantity debate is less relevant than the distinction between inputs, outputs and outcomes — for example, school funding is an input, students in school, student/teacher ratios are outputs. The relevant outcome to measure is a literate, numerate society.
  • To facilitate citizens’ ability to hold governments to account, we need disaggregated data (national level does not tell the story), beyond quintiles, by social groups too. We need social characteristics to explain why people have not benefited. Equality of opportunity may not be sufficient — positive affirmative action may be necessary. Each goal should have a sub-focus and target the bottom 10 percent.6
  • Recognize that health or population goals will catalyze opposing coalitions like the Catholic Church.
  • Remove the sanitation goal — it is donor driven and not a Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers priority. The several health goals should be consolidated into one basic health goal.
  • Define MDGs based on factors/conditions enabling growth.
  • Dignity/respect versus basic needs is not an either/or choice; it is AND/BOTH.
  • Means cannot be separated from ends — it is a false dichotomy — where you find successful ends you will see the means have adjusted along the way.
  • All the successful stories of development at any level involve stories of means. Means trump ends in the sustainability realm.
  • The lessons are to be cautious setting expectations, to anticipate the resources that are required for responsiveness and to ride on already existing platforms.
  • Reconciling simple targets with the complexity of development is a huge constraint.
  • Solidarity is good in principle, but it is better to focus on responsibility — for causing problems and for fixing problems — that is, polluter pays principle. The concept of global public goods masks responsibility.

Engaging with poor communities:

  • Decision makers listening to the poor raises pressure for accountability, and reinforces a loop of accountability; but simply raising expectations is not enough — there must be follow through.

Opportunities for influence:

  • Drafters of the post-2015 MDGs should engage with the African Union and the UN Economic Commission of Africa, and perhaps other regional groupings.

Where we agreed

The participants were neither in favour of maintaining the status quo nor merely extending the time frame beyond 2015 with new values for the same set of targets. They were in broad support of:

  • Development de-linked from aid;
  • Defining development in enabling terms of freedoms, rights and levels of human dignity (measurement not based on material gains);
  • Refining the MDGs to be a more effective communication tool — we need a simple persuasive forward-looking story, based on facts;
  • The MDGs contextualized in terms of all the commitments — legal commitments and action plans;
  • Number of goals at 10 or less and not more than 20 targets;
  • Global-level goals with regional and local-level targets, monitored by transnational processes.Country-specific prescriptions are important; despite the need for global goals, nations must be able to adapt the goals to a local context;
  • Goals for climate change, food insecurity (food prices will be volatile, with increasing demands to mitigate for the poorest), sustainability and agriculture;
  • Goals to reflect empowerment, transparency and accountability;
  • Targets on connectivity (ICT, electricity);
  • Consultations with the poor, soliciting their views;
  • Re the future process, some legitimate body should set out three simple questions (for example, what are the three most important goals, the most important unmet goal and two other goals that need global solutions?) on a website and exploit appropriate ICT, with global sampling, engaging as many people as possible, North and South, consolidate the answers and feed into Rio 2012;
  • The “untouchable” questions are the things that most need to be addressed — the way we frame them is what matters; and
  • New technologies provide for new possibilities for engagement and dialogue.



1          The eight MDG goals are broken down into 21 quantifiable targets measured by 60 indicators and were adopted by 189 countries during the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000. They are to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs were established following several international conferences during the 1990s. They were, in fact, a series of commitments already agreed upon in the various UN conferences and discussions on sustainability, the environment and development, and were condensed into a simplified set of goals to communicate the development aims of governments to the public.

2          The Koreans have a practical approach: “Given the way the world is, here is how you can run your economy to promote change that will improve the living standards of a large percentage of your country.  Does it create perfection or perfect happiness?  No, but it does some important things, especially for the poor.”

4           We were warned that traditional capacity building has generally degenerated into an unjustified patronizing approach, disguised tied aid, designed to benefit donor interest groups with little regard for the potential or needs of the recipients. There is no political appetite for the traditional capacity-building approach. The most promising development approaches (microfinance, community budgeting) have been developed outside the traditional framework.

5          The Lorenz curve plots the proportion of the total income of the population (y axis) that is cumulatively earned by the bottom x percent of the population. The line at 45 degrees, thus, represents perfect equality of incomes. The Gini coefficient is the ratio of the area that lies between the line of equality and the Lorenz curve over the total area under the 45 degree line. A society that scores 0.0 on the Gini scale has perfect equality in income distribution. The higher the number over 0, the higher the inequality, and the score of 1.0 indicates total inequality where only one person corners all the income.

6          The example for the poorer results for minorities was Chinese girls’ increase in secondary school enrollment since 1990 — 80 percent for Han, only 50 percent for non-Han, a sorry result that bested the experience for minorities in many other countries.