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‘Not only opportunity vulnerability too has been globalised’

12 November 2013 05:05 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen Ayubowan, Vanakum, Assalamalaikum, Peace, Good Morning!

On this most auspicious day of remembrance, it is an honour and privilege to be invited as keynote speaker of the 2013 Commonwealth People’s Forum.  As I share my thoughts from the podium, I hope you will all remember the fallen victims of disasters and conflicts, from the painful losses of Typhoon Haiyan in Philippines and the many conflicts around the world.



" If we are to be honest with ourselves, we need to ensure we do not fall into the same trap when finalising the post 2015 sustainability goals.  The Post-2015 Sustainable Development Framework will have one central pillar-known as the Strategic Vision "



 I feel very humbled to be standing here speaking to all of you as I know that there must be centuries of cumulative experiences among the civil society actors from many countries across the Commonwealth in this room today.  I convey my very special thanks to the Commonwealth Secretariat for inviting me today.

We have just over a year till 2015, to measure the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  We know that many nations have made good progress and indeed my own native Malaysia recently celebrated the successful achievement of all goals.  On the other hand, many countries have not made the progress we had hoped for, particularly on poverty alleviation, gender, health and human rights.

 
 
While I have been asked to speak on the role of civil society in the post 2015 development architecture, let me begin by reflecting on the MDGs itself.  I concur with Ambassador CsabaKoros, Co-Chair of the Open Working Group, speaking at the Session on the Role of Foundations and Civil Society in the Post 2015 Agenda, when he remarked that one of the main problems with the MDGs is that there is so much focus on goals with not enough emphasis on getting the foundations right – this includes the processes and frameworks that build the enabling environment for people and nations to achieve their true potential and a sustainable end to poverty.

There is a strong and disproportionate emphasis and demand for goals when we have still some way to go towards building a really solid foundation.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we need to ensure we do not fall into the same trap when finalising the post 2015 sustainability goals.  The Post-2015 Sustainable Development Framework will have one central pillar-known as the Strategic Vision. This will be the main document that will form the foundation of what we do. It is on the basis of this Strategic Vision that we will build the goals as an annex.  Lest we repeat our mistakes, we must all work to ensure that finances, the monitoring through the high level forum and all other frameworks need to be in place, while at the same time acknowledging that the political contexts of nations greatly influence the outcome of sustainable development.

With the short time frame till 2015, unfinished business is now being addressed through the MDG Acceleration Framework and this is seen to be essential to ensure credibility of the post 2015 development agenda as noted by the United Nations Secretary General last September.  I cannot help feeling it is a race too late for the sprint with much valuable resources poured into achieve goals that are to be improved in the near future, nonetheless articulation of the role of civil society in this processis crucial and must be explicitly clear.

Allow me to challenge our thinking as we approach the post 2015 development agenda.  I would like to raise several key issues for your consideration.

I especially welcome and congratulate His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka for his bold speech yesterday evening on strengthening human rights and press freedom. As a nation in transition and in post-conflict reconciliation, Sri Lanka must not allow splinter groups to create intolerance and new violence. International, national and local civil societies in Sri Lanka need to assure the Government of Sri Lanka, that we are here as partners to help it fulfill these commitments, and in equal measure, I urge the government of Sri Lanka to embrace civil society as its partners and reflecting the sentiments expressed by the President yesterday.  Sri Lanka must aspire to be a role model to other nations facing similar challenges.

Vulnerability is changing. We have increasing numbers of localised disasters and crises - conflicts and geophysical events.  We are also seeing dramatic illustrations of the downsides of globalisation, specifically the triple F crises of finance, food and fuel. Both opportunity and vulnerability have now been globalised. There are growing numbers of communities and individuals ‘living on the edge’. People are living on the edge if their lives and livelihoods are exposed and sensitive to shocks and stresses, and their adaptive capacities are constantly on the verge of being overwhelmed. Living on the edge suggests that a small push could send that community or individual over the edge.  Thus, development can be badly derailed in the process. We don’t have to look far to see this happening around us.
Despite this, the potential impact of the globalisation of vulnerability on the very poorest is not well understood. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon put it: “…in the face of the global financial crisis.....it appears that the burden of coping has been borne disproportionately by poor and vulnerable people. This reality is poorly understood. A major reason for this lack of understanding is that the shocks and stresses we are seeing in the world today have multiple, unpredictable effects and increasingly demanding – but do not always trigger – diverse responses at the local level. Yet many international agencies have taken an ever narrower and institutionally defined way of dealing with vulnerability. Some deal with health, others with income, others with violence, others with children, and others with the elderly. We are facing profoundly systemic problems, and we are dealing with them in these narrow and limited ways.

This is one of the key arguments behind a new must-read book Aid on the Edge of Chaos, authored by Ben Ramalingam, who co-incidentally is of Sri Lankan origin. One area where this is especially worrying is the increasingly false distinction between development and humanitarian work. This causes profound problems for dealing with vulnerability of the poorest.  As a result, the humanitarian sector is moving towards a focus on resilience – a word that unfortunately is understood by different actors in many different ways. To me, the simplest way to look at resilience is that it probably for lack of a better word, defines where humanitarian and development meet, and they should.

Building true resilience requires moving beyond narrow views of the risks we face. A linear, reductionist approach would have us deal with resilience in piecemeal ways. Danger of fire? Equip fire departments. Possible electricity failure? Turn off transformers and give hospitals generators. Risk of floods? Build barriers. But what about when all the risks hit at once, like in Hurricane Sandy or in the aftermath of the Earthquake and Tsunami in Sendai, Japan and the ensuing Fukushima nuclear incident.  We need a better, more inter-disciplinary, understanding of the globalised vulnerability landscape among both policy makers and operational decision makers. In other words, we need a complex systems approach to resilience. As well as better-shared data and analysis, we need to find better ways of breaking down disciplinary silos.

I am arguing for avoiding the trap of simply rebuilding and repairing flawed structures of the past—be it an economic system overly reliant on risky speculation or a health-care system that splits a nation at its financial seams and yet fails to deliver adequate coverage, or a series of goals that were developed 15 years ago that are simply being re-booted without being re-thought.  A complex, systems-inspired resilience perspective stands in stark contrast to narrow development and humanitarian paradigms and global policies that offer only minor adjustments of current behaviors, and that tend to concentrate on technical quick fixes to get rid of the problems. It encourages us to anticipate, adapt, learn, and transform human actions in light of the unprecedented challenges of our turbulent world.  

I am calling for all actors including civil society to continue strategising and promptly acting on approaches that take into consideration these key issues, and embrace the complexity of the world we live in now. Innovate, adapt, build new partnerships and work differently if we are to have a better chance at addressing the post 2015 development agenda with a measure of success.

We need to continue engagement and advocacy with governments to achieve recognition of the centrality of civil society in development.  And greater investment is needed in supporting the conditions that help create an enabling environment for civil society to participate in development processes more fully, proactively and effectively. This will be in line with the Istanbul Principles that were adopted in the Busan framework for civil society development effectiveness; that include the need to foster development processes that are inclusive, equal and just;

 I re-emphasise the need for Governments to create an enabling environment (laws and policies) to facilitate engagement and participation by civil society and as a first step, key gaps and weaknesses in governance processes and accountability need to be addressed.  What is civil society able to do to advance this position?CSOs have been recognized as actors in their own right to effective development and reinforced at the OECD High Level Forum in Busan.  They thus need to improve their own accountability to fully live up to their potential (this being the 1st indicator in the CSO-Enabling Environment Index).  

I am a believer that we need to continually advocate and demand that private sector companies practice shared value.  Civil society has a role to highlight to the private sector challenges the societies around them face and how solutions can be found.  And where private sector can be potentially damaging, it is through the use of our collective network advocacy, dialogue, and using new technologies that we can demand for greater accountability and responsibility from the private sector.  
On the other hand, we need to also learn how the private sector works – their strategies, organizational development, strengths and tap into their resources not only financial but equally important tools and planning processes, so that civil society becomes more efficient and outcome/results driven without losing our most important attributes of diversity, connectedness with people in need and humility.

 Last but not least - If we look around the world today, we have to admit that many of the challenges we face leading to erosion of developmental gains, stem from a clash of ideologies surrounding ‘faith and religion’.  This has resulted in extremely negative consequences from unrest, fractured social fabric to outright conflict and genocide.  I challenge the notion that these perpetrators really understand faith or spirituality and denounce their use of religion as a tool for conflict.

As we gather in the comfort of Hikkaduwa today, countries like Syria have rapidly declined to a near failed state. Syria – a nation once known for its rich history and diversity, where all Abrahamic faiths have gathered and once lived in peace, is now torn apart by sectarian violence.  Look east from here, and we witness the brutality against Muslims on-going in Myanmar, a nation poised for democracy, rapid development and economic growth.  It is all around us. It has to stop.  How can we better create platforms for dialogues and rebuilding of trust and tolerance?  We need to collectively think this through together and urgently.

Daisaku Ikeda (the founder of SokaGakkai movement) once said:  “Where there is an absence of international political leadership, civil society should step in to fill the gap, providing the energy and vision needed to move the world in a new and better direction”.  I am sorry not to be able to stay the entire duration of this forum but am confident that all of you in this room today, your partners and networks, can provide that energy and vision, so that the post 2015 development agenda and the outcomes from the CPF, will be one that goes beyond rhetoric and help bring about real transformation.We need to go beyond accepting a step change and aim for a quantum leap.

Thank you for your kind attention.
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