Hope and Healing

4 Concerns with New Global Goals

The Friday before last, (September 25), the United Nations passed the “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). These global targets are meant to drive the development agenda for the next decade. They replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders at a UN summit in September 2000.

Contrary to the MDGs, the new goals (SDGs) explicitly mention disability 11 times, acknowledging that poverty can’t be addressed without including people with disabilities.

Pope Francis, addressing the UN on September 25, also mentioned people with disability explicitly.

Clearly disability is recognized today as a key development linchpin more than at any other time in history. As a world leader in inclusive development, we at cbm should be ecstatic. Many cbm staff members have worked tirelessly to put persons with disability on the development agenda.

So why am I not celebrating? At least, not yet? I have several concerns about the SDGs. Let me explain.

    I’m not convinced the SDGs will have any impact on the Canadian government’s development agenda. The Canadian government has trailed most of the world in recognizing the importance of addressing disability/ability in its development agenda. Most countries have in their development work a cross cutting theme ensuring disability is part of any program. Not the Canadian government. The Canadian government has signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability – but not moved on to the next phase of what difference that makes in funding decisions and program development.
    I’m concerned that targets set will drive superficial number counting, rather than deep, sustainable life change. The next steps by world governments are crucial. There is a danger that this document be used not as a blueprint for further work including people, but an indicator that all is well in existing programs. We need to be extra vigilant and work extra hard now to ensure that this wonderful language is actualized in decisions.
    I’m concerned that the amount of effort that goes into creating big development goals takes resources away from practical grassroots interventions that make life better for a child with CP in rural Malawi. I am always worried about the chasm between UN decisions and the child with CP in a small rural village in Africa. Again, we need to work extra hard now to ensure this document makes a difference to that child with CP in rural Africa.
    I worry that as world leaders congratulate themselves for creating smart looking and inclusive goals, they’ll consider their job done – without putting money and energy and biting policy in place to drive impact on lives. Again, it is now that we desperately need to work harder to move this notice into real action.

There, I’ve listed my worries. Now let’s move to the opportunity.

It is true that for the first time in history, a majority of countries and institutions around the world acknowledge that to address poverty, you have to address accessibility and inclusion! This provides us a strong foundation for our work, our discussions with leaders and our village level advocacy.

This allows for people with disability in rural Africa, Asia and Latin America to say to their communities that they are noticed!

What we have to do is leverage this moment in history, engage with leaders, support local advocates, and develop models that prove it is not only possible but good for the world to include people with disabilities in all programs.

The key to making the SDGs successful is to see this as a foundation for building a better more inclusive world. The work isn’t done. It’s just beginning in earnest.

That would turn my worries into celebration!