U.S. calls for faster action on development ahead of U.N. conference

U.S. calls for faster action on development ahead of U.N. conference

Top U.S. development officials met with development community leaders Friday to roll out the U.S. plan for speeding up progress toward global development goals over the next five years.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are a worldwide effort organized by the U.N. to make substantial progress on eight major areas of development through coordinated efforts by 2015. While there has been some success in each of the areas, expectations for reaching the goals in time are low ahead of a major international conference on the issue slated for September.

Friday’s meeting, hosted by the U.N. Foundation, was meant to stake out the U.S. position ahead of the conference and get community leaders on board in the hope that the U.S. proposal can shape the conference. The National Security Council’s senior director for global development, Gayle Smith, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, and Rick Barton, the U.S. representative to the U.N.’s economic and social council, led the meeting.

The U.S. strategy, released online over the weekend, stresses innovation and economic growth as the keys to meeting the global targets. Innovation and "sustainability," meaning good stewardship of the programs, and governance, are also key themes.

"If we are to meet the ambitious objectives we have set, historic leaps in human development will be needed. For this reason, we must be even more determined, strategic, and focused on results as we chart the path to 2015," the document reads.

The meeting was closed, but three participants spoke on the record about it. All three said that U.S. officials and development leaders were on the same page and universally supported the document, but that much more would work would be needed to make the plan operative.

"The document states very clearly that the U.S. takes the MDGs very seriously," said Ben Hubbard, deputy chief of staff at USAID. "We’re very clear that we’re embracing them and thinking hard about the kind of investments and engagement we need in terms of working toward meeting them."

"Just doing more of what we’ve been doing is not going to get us there. We need some important shifts in our approach to make the leaps to get us on track," he said.

USAID’s newly revamped policy shop prepared the document, which observers said signaled that USAID is increasing its capacity to play a larger role in setting development policy.

David Lane, CEO and president of the ONE campaign, said the document was a modern take on development that echoes where community leaders think policy should head, but noted that it could only be implemented if more detail were added later and proper resources were provided to support it.

Development community leaders hope to build international consensus around the plan ahead of next month’s conference.

"Right now, this is a U.S. plan," said Lane. "The biggest challenge between now and September is how to make this more than just an American statement, and whether the U.N. will be able to build momentum around it."

Other development hands lamented the fact that the Obama administration is promoting a global development strategy before announcing its own policy framework. Two key documents — the White House’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7) and the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which will define the role of USAID — have yet to be released.

"Without those policy documents, there’s still not clarity about what the broader mission is beyond the MDGs and how all these pieces fit together," said Greg Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America.

The policy documents help avoid bureaucratic delays caused by confusion and will also help mobilize support in Congress and show Obama’s leadership on development issues, according to Adams.

"The president is the straw that stirs the drink. Until we hear him issue this policy, we don’t know whether this plan can be operationalized," he said.