EVERY year on October 24, we celebrate UN Day, commemorating the founding of the United Nations. Since joining 40 years ago, Bangladesh has experienced significant gains in economic growth and human development. In 2000, world leaders met at the UN Headquarters in New York for the Millennium Summit, which introduced to the world the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals would guide development progress towards meeting basic needs and increasing quality of life for all. Bangladesh has become one of the best performing least developed countries (LDC) in MDG attainment, particularly for the goals on maternal mortality, child mortality, poverty reduction, and primary education. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done in the areas of gender empowerment and equality, nutrition, and environmental sustainability. This UN Day, the UN in Bangladesh shines the spotlight on MDG achievements and gaps through seven plays based on each of the human development goals of the MDGs, and performed in the seven divisions of Bangladesh. However, there is often one goal that is forgotten about — MDG 8: A global partnership for development.
What does MDG 8 currently look like?
Around the world, MDG 8 has had mixed success. Targets selected covered official development assistance (ODA), a fairer trade system, evening the competition in agriculture among countries, debt relief and services, and access to medicine and technology. While MDG 8 aimed to “untie aid,” development assistance is not immune from political realities, and can be influenced by shocks in a globalised economic system. Over the past years, ODA in Bangladesh has hovered around approximately $1.8 billion per year. Due to Bangladesh’s strong economy, this development assistance is declining as a percentage of the country’s gross national income even as absolute numbers of this assistance have increased, highlighting that the country has the lead role in its own development, and is better positioned to define the scope of development cooperation.
South-South cooperation and the intersection of global, national, and private sector actors
In Bangladesh, the UN has supported several initiatives in South-South cooperation between developing countries in areas of health, cultural preservation, social protection, homegrown school feeding and volunteerism in disaster management. Bangladesh and the UN are also members of substantive coalitions that identify regional priorities and mobilise on these issues together. As Bangladesh has a large migrant worker community, the UN in Bangladesh is active in the Colombo Process, which is a regional consultative process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour for countries of origin in Asia. As a relatively nascent initiative, key achievements have included high level regional meets, a training curriculum for labour attachés of sending countries, agreed upon programmes and policies to ensure the safety and welfare of migrant workers, and implementation of recommendations at national level such as compliance of recruitment agencies in countries signatory to the Covenant of Ethical Conduct and Good Practices of Overseas Employment Service Providers.
In order to implement global agreements and protocols, it is also important to cast a wider net for development partners. An example of a multi-faceted partnership was Bangladesh’s approach to the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, which set out to eliminate “ozone depleting substances” that contributed to global warming. The partnership approach had three dimensions: the first was a global multilateral fund that resourced the implementation of various initiatives to meet Montreal Protocol targets; the second was strong government regulation and enforcement, along with UN capacity building initiatives and institutional strengthening of the Department of Environment; and the third was proactive private sector partnerships and compliance to phase out the use of substances harmful to the environment in their production methods. As a result, Bangladesh is phasing out the substances that contribute to ozone layer depletion, and it serves as an example of the efficacy of a partnership that involves a multitude of actors with the shared commitment to fulfill development objectives.
Partnerships for development: a national and global imperative
Although these are only two examples amongst many, they do illustrate that development is foremost a national imperative as much as it is a global one. While important, partnerships are not limited to financing but to find solutions together to meet development aspirations. Bangladesh’s performance in the MDGs has proven that political will, a strong local NGO community, civil society, and donors can work together effectively. This is apparent in the Local Consultative Group mechanism that brings together the different actors in the country’s development landscape, providing the policy environment and platform for sustainable and effective development partnerships to flourish. Beyond indicators and targets, MDG 8 is essentially a goal about shared responsibility. The MDGs were created to address the most pressing development issues in the world at the time, and as a result the world has seen the poverty rate halve well before the 2015 deadline. This UN Day serves as a timely reminder that we are all partners in development, that there is still work left to do, and that it is crucial to ensure that we maintain MDG momentum through delivering on the commitments made across all sectors both at national and global levels.