Blog on the 2016 theme of the High-Level Political Forum - Ensuring that no one is left behind

The theme of the 2016 HLPF will be “Ensuring that no one is left behind”, which is also a central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In the lead-up to the 2016 High-Level Political Forum, weekly blogs by representatives of Member States, UN system and major groups and other stakeholders will be featured to present different viewpoints on how we can ensure that no one is left behind in the implementation of the SDGs.

Week 10 - Here’s what can be achieved in 1,000 days to ‘leave no one behind’ (Elizabeth Stuart, team leader – Sustainable Development Goals, Overseas Development Institute)

7 July 2016

When they take office, national politicians often set out their plans for their first 100 days. The SDGs are longer-term and more ambitious commitments than most electoral cycles, so a 1,000-day – or three year – agenda is a reasonable marker point for action to start delivering on their promise to leave no one behind.

But surely dramatically turning around the lives of the poorest and most discriminated against people must take a long time? Surely nothing so entrenched can be shifted in just 1,000 days?

New analysis from ODI, to be released during the High Level Political Forum, shows that this isn’t the case. It also shows the benefits of taking early action – and the cost of delay.

There are plenty of examples of what’s possible and feasible.

For instance, in 2010, Viet Nam’s Prime Minister approved a scheme to increase investment in school infrastructure and teacher training for ethnic minorities. By 2013 – just three years later – ethnic minority children represented 16.3% of all school-age children enrolled in pre-school education, a higher percentage than the ethnic minority share of the country’s total population (14%). During this period, 218 communes gained access to pre-schools for the first time.

But even in much poorer countries, change can happen quickly. In Eritrea, a fragile state whose IMF assessment has been delayed by 64 months – as good a metric of economic and governmental turmoil as you’ll find – has recently delivered an extraordinary success on getting previously excluded children into school. In conjunction with Unicef, the government is delivering a programme which allows the children of nomadic herders to attend school – a group traditionally excluded from the formal education system as their their seasonal migration is out of step with the school calendar and because they don’t speak the majority language.

Here again, extraordinary achievements were made in a short space of time. The programme was set up in 2007. Within two years, more than 5,000 children aged 9 to 14 were enrolled in 57 Complementary Elementary Education (CEE) learning centres around the country. There are now 100 CEE centres in Eritrea, and around 30,000 children have benefitted from them.

But these look only at education. What about other areas, where norms needs to be changed as much as behaviour or political priorities?

Here too we found great examples of quick results. In 2007, the Vice-President of Ecuador made disability a priority for his office; by 2010, a law had been passed stipulating that 4% of public and private employees should be people with disabilities. From 2007 to 2011, annual government spending on programmes for those with disabilities leapt from $2 million to $150 million.

Of course, this is a complex agenda, and to completely rout out discrimination and reverse marginalisation will take longer than three years, particularly when marginalisation is politically motivated. But the above examples – and our paper is full of others, on a range of policy areas that we assess to be most relevant to leaving no one behind – show that where the government is willing, it can make a vitally important down payment in this short space of time.

Interestingly, theory backs up empirical evidence (nice that it’s this way round): rather than assuming fast change is impossible, the literature on complexity theory suggests that, in fact, change is rarely gradual and proportionate; rather, small changes can have a big impact on complex systems. Nor is it necessary to wait for societal transformation to be able to reduce marginalisation.

And where the government is not willing? Here, leaving no one behind will inevitably take longer. But this is where the global nature of the SDGs comes into play: the international scrutiny and pressure they bring to support domestic civil society groups will make it harder for governments to neglect the needs of significant proportions of their citizens. Of course, rapid change is important in its own right, but early progress will also build the foundations needed to deliver the longer term ambition of the 2030 agenda.
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