At the Trialogue CSI Conference 2015, two panellists debated whether the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are applicable to South African social development strategies. While the panellists held opposing views, the debate revealed that there was more common ground than disagreement.
Shani Kay, the managing director of Regency Foundation Networks spoke first, in support of the debate statement, “The MDGs are applicable to South African social development strategies”.
She pointed out that in a South African context, the MDGs are aligned to the vision expressed in the Freedom Charter and therefore form the basis of the Constitution and have been an integral part of the ongoing work and challenges taken on by the post-apartheid government. She also stressed that the MDGs do not constitute a separate plan, but in fact, complement South Africa’s social development strategies.
She said that this is evident in the National Development Plan, the Provincial Growth and Development Plans and the Integrated Development Plans of municipalities.
“All eight MDG goals have been mapped to government outcomes. And while South Africa will admittedly not meet some of its goals, there has certainly been significant improvement in certain areas that have been influenced by the MDGs – namely ‘reduce child mortality’, ‘improve maternal health’ and ‘combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases’. The MDGs are therefore a complementary strategy for South Africa’s social development strategies in synergy with many of South Africa’s post-1994 development initiatives.”
Kay went on to say that as South Africa is part of a global economy, we cannot talk about countries or regions in isolation, nor can we separate social policy from economic policy nor economic policy from global economy.
“The MDGs have therefore provided a set of markers by which to measure progress towards universal standards of development,” she said. “Regardless of the issues with these standards, they still provide a goalpost for common agreement or pursuit, and this is needed in a world of disparate values and conflicting agendas.”
Fumani Mthembi, managing director of Knowledge Pele, took the opposing view, although she clarified the content of the debate statement. “Where government and large NGOs are concerned, it would seem that the question is true by definition,” she said. “The reason they conform with the MDGs is because they also rely on the United Nations and affiliated donor organisations to fund their programmes.”
She therefore addressed the statement as it applies to the private social investment sector, whether through CSI, philanthropy or foundations. Knowledge Pele has carried out a study, which suggests that for the most part, the private sector doesn’t align itself with the MDGs, and instead relies on the drivers (in order of importance) of company strategy, news reports, government or social pressure, government policy and academic research.
She listed a number of reasons for this skewed approach to CSI, ranging from inappropriately qualified staff heading up these bodies to corporate stakeholder accountability, but she concluded the list with what she believed to be an inherent contradiction within the MDGs themselves.
“While development is moving towards embracing heterogeneity and localisation, the MDGs set up targets that, in a sense, homogenise the world. It therefore takes very skilled development professionals to tease out programmes that can match the local to the global and it would seem that South Africa still has some way to go in cultivating a solid class of development practitioners to support CSI practitioners who rightly wear the corporate accountability and compliance hats.”
The audience responded positively to both viewpoints, raising issues as diverse as a call for nationalisation of resources and demanding for greater government accountability in the development space. However, when put to a vote, the general view was that the MDGs are indeed applicable to social development strategies in South Africa.
Kay concluded, “There cannot be a blanket set of rules across the globe – the differentials are just too vast. But what we do fundamentally need is a common baseline – a framework that expresses our universal values and that will facilitate a transformative shift in the commitment of all countries to upholding them, a global framework that understands the interconnected, causal relationships and the need to optimise outcomes through a collaboration of economic social and environmental perspectives. Because despite the divides of rich and poor, black and white, north and south, the 7.2 billion-plus growing population all share this Earth and on that basis we must adhere to a global set of standards that aims for social justice and utilitarian outcomes for all.
“The integration of these sustainability considerations is required in every decision taken in order to secure our collective future on this increasingly fragile planet.”
However, Mthembi reiterated her caution that local realities must be considered. “Before the MDGs can be aligned, development as science and practice must be brought to the heart of private social investment. That is the only way that blunt or homogenised goals can be effectively incorporated into strategy to match specific local realities.”
Written by Georgina Guedes