UN Week Notes: Friday – the Final Thoughts

lots of confusing logos

My final impressions of the MDG summit, the UNGA sessions I saw on the web, and the Clinton Global Initiative boiled down to three main things: optimism, self-interest, and the private sector.

1)      Optimism: there was a relentless focus on the achievements that have been made to date toward the MDGs, rather than much discussion of how far we have to go. We’ve missed the boat already on many of the Millennium Development Goals, and that really didn’t come up all that much. It could be manufactured, as ODI suggests on their blog. Or it could reflect the fact that we all knew that we’d miss the MDGs anyway. It’s not a surprise that we’re falling short at this point.

2)      Self-interest: Over and over, speakers talked about the benefit to the donor of supporting international development. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton talked about development’s benefits to the United States, and about development as a pillar of US foreign policy. Corporate representatives talked about the benefit of international development to the private sector. Even Greenpeace, at their closing session at the Digital Media Lounger, talked about the economic benefits of green energy.

It seems we’ve given up on human altruism, and now we’re framing our moral imperatives as self-interest. As long as it works to support development, it’s okay with me. But I wonder what happens when development doesn’t show the immediate benefit to the wealthy world that we’ve been promised?

3)      Private Sector: I wrote about this on the End the Neglect blog but it bears repeating. The partnership of business with NGOs and governments was a big story this week. Coca-Cola was everywhere, and other companies were right there with Coke. The private sector has decided it’s in their interest to support development, and governments have decided it’s time to encourage it. This is going to have a huge impact on the way international development efforts are supported and implemented. I doubt that impact is going to be 100% positive.


Disclosure: I attended UN Week as an Oxfam VOICE, which funded my trip as part of an effort to increase awareness of the MDGs.


photo credit: Francisco Diez

UN Week Notes: Thursday

I spent the whole day today camped out at the Digital Media Lounge, because I think I have strep throat and schlepping all over town for press events was beyond my capacities. I had originally planned on attending a cookstove event, a global warming press conference, and the CGI keynote. Luckily, the Digital Media Lounge had some interesting stuff, so it wasn’t all that disappointing.

The highlights were the live broadcast of Obama’s Israel/Palestine speech, Rajiv Shah’s talk, and the absolute awesome president of Greenpeace. There was other stuff but those were the biggies.

Obama’s speech – it was a beautiful speech, beautifully delivered. But there was nothing new in it that’s going to move the needle on the situation. And this line “And efforts to threaten or kill Israelis will do nothing to help the Palestinian people,” is, unfortunately, demonstrably untrue. No one cared about the Palestinians until the intifada. Pretending otherwise isn’t going to win any supporters.

Rajiv Shah – we had to submit questions in writing and he picked which ones to answer. Not surprisingly, he didn’t pick any of mine. He stressed the expansion of the “core development community,” specifically mentioning Coca-Cola and young people who problem-solve. Rajiv Shah seems a little obsessed with innovation. It makes sense, since he comes from Gates, but I am not convinced it’s what USAID needs to focus on.

It also sounded to me like Shah is fully on board with the idea of development as a pillar of American foreign policy. I’m not opposed to that, but I also believe in development as a moral imperative. I wish I knew if he did too.

I live-tweeted Shah – you can see the tweets starting here.

Then we had the presentation from the unmovement people. It’s a social network that connect small NGOs and lets people learn about them and donate if they want. It’s supposed to help groups that don’t get social media tap its power anyway. I was fine with the whole thing until they mentioned that they don’t need to monitor or evaluate the NGOs because beneficiaries can just use the website to rate the projects and that’s how you’ll know if they are working.

Uh, NO. M&E is about way more than whether the beneficiaries like it. They communities you work with don’t necessarily know all your goals – they have better things to do than memorize your project objectives – and even really bad work can be popular with people, even if it’s wasting money and not doing much good. We need really M&E to make sure that we’re having the impact we want to have, and to show us how to adjust midstream if we don’t.

The, after a long, long wait in the auditorium, we had a presentation from Kumi Naidoo, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International. It was supposed to be a talk about how to meet the MDGs and protect the environment. It turned out to be a barn-burner of a rant that made it vividly clear how plastic most of this week has been.

He came out swinging – his first comment was that while he’s wholly in favor of reusing, this week had been nothing but recycled comments and baby steps. It was a great talk, and it left me feeling angry and vaguely inspired. My live tweets start here.


Disclosure: I attended UN Week as an Oxfam VOICE, which funded my trip as part of an effort to increase awareness of the MDGs.


Kumi Naidoo at some other event. photo credit: wwf France

UN Week Notes: Wednesday

I spent the morning at CGI and meeting with several different people to talk about the MDG summit and what they expected to come out of it.

No one wanted to go on the record, but the general consensus is that the meetings seem like a repeat. There is very little that’s new coming out this week. And while we don’t expect huge new research discoveries or anything, a new perspective or two wouldn’t be too much to ask for. The always brilliant Janet Ginsburg did give me one key piece of advice for interpreting the hype around the MDG Summit: look for what they’re not talking about. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for that. One thing she pointed out is that the only water mentioned in the MDGs is drinking water, which ignores the other major use of water: irrigation.

After lunch I headed over to the Mashable Digital Media Lounge. I watched the live broadcast of Ban Ki Moon’s big announcement about the new global strategy for women and children’s health. He has commitments of 40 billion dollars from governments and private donors to back up the strategy.

I find myself very tired of linking women and children together in health approaches, but an additional 40 billion dollars is all to the good. I am a little suspicious. Often these kinds of commitments are just rehashes of money that would have been provided anyway (see Obama Global Health Initiative, Gates Foundation vaccine funding). Oxfam shares my skepticism about the money for the strategy, by the way, and also estimates that we really need more like 80 billion. I also heard from someone in the know that the team charged with overseeing the global strategy for women and children’s health is scrambling to figure out how to measure all of the things they have promised to do.

Also interesting: inclusion of Paul Kagame in the Every Woman, Every Child speaker’s roster.

The other big highlight of the day was the Millennium Promise Reception, a fancy shindig at the plaza hotel to “celebrate the leadership of Ban Ki-Moon, the MDG advocates and Champions, and innovators who are guiding breakthroughs for the Goals around the world.” (If you’re thinking that sentence makes no sense, I agree.) It was a little disconcerting to go to a lavish event at a luxury hotel to talk about extreme poverty.

But the purpose of the event was to get pledges from people to support the MDGs. And I guess you need rich people in their comfort zone if you want them to do that. It was a big deal event – Bob Geldorf spoke, and quoted Goethe. They started collecting MDG pledges at the reception. There are eighty so far, and some of them are big.

I don’t really have thoughts about the reception yet. I ran into several ex-colleagues and waited in the rain for 20 minutes for a bus to get back to my hotel, but that’s not really relevant.

Disclosure: I attended UN Week as an Oxfam VOICE, which funded my trip as part of an effort to increase awareness of the MDGs.


photo credit: Mr Azed

It was the only picture I could find of Bob Geldorf on flickr that was cc licensed

UN Week Notes: Tuesday

I’ll be doing one of these entries each day, with a few notes on the most interesting things I attended and any thoughts I had to share. I’ll have some more reflective and detailed posts coming, but I wanted to share the basics of this experience as fast as possible.

So, Tuesday.

In the morning, I went to the Clinton Global Initiative. It’s intensely controlled – tons of security, including secret service. Bloggers and regular media are combined in a subterranean press room which is packed full. I saw a nasty squabble break out over front row seats in the press room. There is an interesting contrast between part-time analytic bloggers like me and the full timers who do this for a living. If you want to attend any sessions at CGI, you have to be escorted by event staff. I spent my time watching the live feeds in the press room since I hadn’t had the chance to register to attend anything. On Wednesday, I’ve got some registrations.

The most interesting things I saw were Hilary Clinton’s speech launching the Global Clean Cookstove Alliance and a panel with Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Queen Rania of Jordan, and Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola talking about empowering women and girls.

Initial thoughts on Hilary Clinton: We’ve been trying to get people to use better cookstoves for 50 years. Why would it work now? But impressive framing of cookstoves as a global health issue. It needs a context if anyone is going to care, and global health is the sexy issue right now. I’ll have a post on cookstoves at Aid Watch soon.

Initial thoughts about the Women and Girls Panel: Muhtar Kent from Coca-Cola was up there like he belonged. He had serious ideas and plans about empowering women and girls, including an announcement that he is challenging Coca-Cola to empower 5 million more women by 2020. What does it mean that corporations are engaging in global health like this? How is it going to change the landscape? I should be writing on that for UN Dispatch.

In the afternoon, I was at the Mashable Digital Media Lounge. My favorite event was the panel on malaria. It focused mainly on Nothing but Nets, and included Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen group, Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the United Methodist Church, and Elizabeth Gore, Executive Director of Global Partnerships for the UN Foundation.

They made a persuasive case for the important of continuing the fight against malaria, arguing that we’re making real progress and we just need to stick with it. That ties to my own mantra of keeping on with what we already know how to do, so it’s not surprising I liked it.

They also discussed the importance of good storytelling and of small donations, which I liked less. While it’s true that ten dollar bills have been the lifeblood of Nothing But Nets, keeping up the stream of stories and pictures to motivate those small donations is misery for the field team who are actually attempting to run a project. A nice government or foundation grant that just asks for a report every month and some proof that you’re hitting your goals is far, far easier. Otherwise you spend valuable program time generating the stories that trigger small donations, and it takes away from the work you’re really trying to do. That is an eternal dilemma of this work, but the enthusiasm of this high level panel really brought it home to me.

Finally, in response to the one guy who was convinced that DDT is the magic bullet against malaria and environmentalists have been depriving us of it. NO NO NO NO NO. While DDT is environmentally vicious, that’s not why we stopped using it in the developing world. We stopped using it because mosquitoes get resistant to it really fast and it was losing effectiveness and making the mosquitoes stronger.

Disclosure: I attended UN Week as an Oxfam VOICE, which funded my trip as part of an effort to increase awareness of the MDGs.


Photo credit: Mashable

I wasn’t actually there for this, but it’s from the Digital Media Lounge, so bear with me.