Thursday, November 27, 2008

Personalizing the Conference

Several times participants have asked that we "tell the story" of some of the people most affected by the discussions we are having. After all the subtitle of the conference is "Investing in People-Centered Development." Too many words, too many papers, not enough faces-- it is easy to forget we are really talking about people and their ability to provide a life for themselves and their families.

So let me attempt to put a face on the discussion ... Let me introduce you to Jhil, a 10 year employee of the restaurant in the hotel where this conference is being held. He started as a waiter and now is the captain. He is married for six years with a son and a five day old daughter.

A wonderful success story, right? Unfortunately it is not. Jhil is from Nepal and his young family lives there. He spends his year working six days a week at the hotel in Qatar. He can afford to spend one month each year with his family in Nepal.

Talk to almost any of the young workers, male and female, at the hotels in town, the taxi drivers, the workers on the street and you will hear them describe very similar circumstances. Only the countries of origin will differ.

For the younger ones it might be seen as a great opportunity-- living in another culture and work opportunities not available at home. But for those ready to raise a family, it is a time of absenteeism from the partnership of marriage. For the men it means missing out on years of their children's lives.

Wages they could earn in their home country would not be sufficient for them to establish themselves in business nor provide anything more than the very basics for their families. So they make a choice-- they leave their poor country in order to provide a better financial foundation for their family.

Not once during this conference have I heard the words "family" or "marriage" mentioned. It has been about debt reduction, systemic reform, gender equality, trade, etc. And this is during a conference entitled "Investing in People-Centered Development."

Perhaps we are fighting for the same things-- just coming at it from a little different direction. However I find that when my eyes cross at all the legaleze being tossed around, it is easier to stay focused when I realize the very polite, smiling young person serving you coffee represents the millions who are in similar situation. Their absent spouses and children asks that we provide a world in which families can live as families with adequate resources. That is an investment in people-centered development!

Second Day of FfD Conference

Starting off the second day of the NGO Conference was a series of workshops. I went to the one on "Innovative Funding Mechanisms to Bridge the Funding Gap". The focus of the conference was on funding health initiatives but I thought maybe I could pick up some ideas that could be transferred to our situation.

I am not sure that goal was achieved. The first presentation focused on a tax by the French government on all passengers flying internationally from French airports. I failed to see this as innovative (unless you focus on the fact that few other governments are doing this). It seems to be just another tax and
I don't think taxes help build public support for solving problems. Apparently Chirac was pushing this initiative which always helps. But I don't think 1% of the people flying out of France know that they are paying this tax (I pointed out that no one understands airline ticket costs and several people shook their heads in agreement.) Nor are people particularly aware of the problem it is attempting to solve .

The second initiative presented is indeed creative but not transferable to our situation. "Debt Swap" allows a debtor nation to use its repayment for improving the health of its own people. Using the agreement between Germany (creditor nation) and Indonesia (debtor nation) as an example: Germany forgave €50 million of Indonesia's debt. Indonesia was required to pay €25 million to the Global Fund (Germany gave Indonesia a 50% discount on its debt) which then holds the money while Indonesia's health ministry comes up with an approved health improvement program. The Global Fund pays for its administrative costs out of the interest raised on the money held.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A few words about the Civil Society Conference

Day 1 has concluded after 10 hours of work, about half of that time spent in plenary sessions and the remainder in focus groups.

Issues focused on were 1) Mobilizing national resources; 2) Systematic issues; 3) Financial integrity; 4) Trade; 5) Debt; and 6) Private capital development.

I attended the group dealing with systematic issues which turned out to be the largest group and produced a very lively discussion. Our purpose was to help "fill out" the draft of the Civil Societies Declaration which will be given during the Review Conference which begins on Saturday, Nov 29. This declaration is the NGOs reaction to the government's "Outcome Document" which is still being reworked by government reps in New York. (We have received two versions of the "Outcome Document" since arriving at the meeting this morning!) Our goal was to try to make sure that the government document reflects the concerns of the NGOs.

Following our sessions in small groups, the groups reported back during a plenary session. Major concerns were the importance of getting a follow-up mechanism/conference with a specific date and the need to strengthen ECOSOC and not create more bodies. It was also pointed out that the Civil Society is not
mentioned in the document.

Repeatedly today strong feelings surfaced that while additional funds are needed to deal with climate control these funds should not come from what has already been agreed to in order to reach the Millennium Development Goals.

Another point that repeatedly raised strong emotion was the need to put people back into the process. The subtitle of the conference-Investing in People-Centered Development-- seems to have gotten lost in subsequent documents.

"Stay engaged" has become the battle cry.

Final Words from the Conference……

Some 370 representatives are attending the 2.5 day conference. There is a large contingent from the so-called south. A significant number of people are attending thanks to the generosity of the Qatar government who provided funding for travel, accomodations, and food.

The Qatar government is also apparently picking up the tab for lunch for all the participants. I was expecting sandwiches but we were treated to an elegant buffet in one of two of the hotel's restaurants. In fact the coffee breaks include sandwiches, hot hors d'oevres and small deserts.

Financing for Development Conference Update from William Harry

The keynote address was by Roberto Bissio entitled "The Trends, Challenges, the Financial Crisis and Implications for Development, the Role of the UN and the Significance, Potential and Limits of the UN FfD Process, the Aid Effectiveness Agenda and MDG Summit 2008. As usual the topic was so broad and wide-ranging that nothing of substance could be said on any of the points. Mr Bissio did his best bringing in current examples including some letter sent to Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank's latest comments. I suspect most folks here don't know who either of them are and I didn't quite understand what they had to do with our topic.

Further information and perhaps a different point of view can be read found in the daily updates at

Of course this conference is follow-up to the conference on financing which was held in Monterrey, Mexico in 2002. That conference was similar in size with 2 years preparation. The NGOs see themselves as the engine behind the movement. There has been progress in the negotiations and concrete initiatives are still on the table which will be talked about at the Review Forum following this week's meeting.

Like often happens at the UN meetings, we at times found ourselves to drown in alphabet soup and the numbers game-- Group of 77, Rio Group, CANZ (Canada, Australia, New Zealand), "9 bis" paragraph, "the famous paragraph #58, etc, etc. But an economist, Barbara Adams, was very helpful in clarifying many points and helping us to gain control of the various documents.

Adams explained that creating jobs to eradicate poverty remains the #1 priority. She also pointed out that changes that are being proposed demonstrate huge differences in policies wanted. Sometimes disagreement is more over consequences of policy than the policy itself. (Cfr #8)

During a Q&A it was highlighted that only 5 countries have reached the funding goal of .7%. Those countries which actually reached 1% have fallen back to .7%. There appears to be disagreement on the timetables for some countries.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Preparation for the Conference

It has taken several weeks to get everything in order to attend the International Conference of Financing for Sustainable Development. The Civil Society portion of the Forum will take place November 25-28 in Doha, Qatar.

We leave the USA on November 23 and will arrive (hopefully) in Doha the evening before the conference is scheduled to start. We might miss the opening reception and dinner but we will be in our seats when the opening plenary session begins at 9 AM on the 26th.

For those interesting in learning more about the Conference and the work that has been done so far of financing for sustainable development, I would recommend checking out the Conference website. This is easily accessible from the Carmelite NGO website ( There is also a link to the Conference program.

We will work hard to insure that we move ever closer to "investing in people-centered development."