To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

The Sustainable Development Goals After One Year – Already In Need Of Course Correction

by Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post 

In the weeks leading up to last year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders and activists were united in their optimism about launching a new set of global goals that would set a bold direction to 2030. One year on how are we doing? In short, not well enough. These inspirational goals require us all to stretch, but far too many are hunkered down in business as usual.

While celebrating the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we knew that we could do better. MDG achievements were impressive, but generally limited to those groups who were easier to reach. MDG progress was based in averages and masked inequalities. Less privileged groups did not see the same improvements, excluded from progress by their gender, ethnicity, caste, and place of birth, among other factors. Countries in conflict also saw few improvements. According to the World Bank in 2011, “No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG.”

Recognizing the need for bolder action, the UN orchestrated one of the most participatory projects in its history to define 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to move everyone, both in developing and developed countries alike, toward a better future by 2030. Embedded in this new framework was the transformational commitment that “no one would be left behind.”

One year on, overall progress toward the 17 goals in support of reaching everyone is already off track. Research from the Overseas Development Institute suggests that only three of the goals, including ending extreme poverty, are on a path to success with some additional effort, while nine goals, including many affecting children such as reducing maternal mortality, ending hunger, ending child marriage and boosting secondary school completion, are progressing much too slowly and require a major step change. Five goals, including reducing income inequality, are moving in the wrong direction. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators has yet to approve a set of global indicators to measure progress on the SDGs, and the promise to disaggregate data by gender, age and ethnic group – so critical to the goals’ transformational impact — does not appear very high on countries’ priority lists.

After their strong launch a year ago, world leaders have missed opportunities to throw SDG implementation into high gear. The World Humanitarian Summit, the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the Financing for Development Forum, and the recent G20 Summit were big opportunities for pushing the SDG agenda forward, yet failed so far to trigger concrete action accelerating progress. As one UN representative said during the HLPF in July, “Leave no one behind isn’t something that will happen by everyone just repeating that phrase again and again at the UN.” The SDGs need to be taken more seriously if the world is to be successful in delivering on these goals.

While most countries have been slow to begin implementing the goals, there is good news: some have confronted the challenge and begun to design plans for achieving success. Twenty-two countries agreed to participate in national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July. Colombia and Sierra Leone are examples of countries that have already worked to orient national institutions toward meeting the SDG goals. In addition, both countries have made monitoring and improving data a priority. These examples underscore the fact that with political will and determined effort, progress is achievable.

Meanwhile, Germany has worked to position itself as a leader in the process of achieving the SDGs. Not only did the German government note its need to address goals that were relevant to the country’s highly developed context, but it has also taken steps to address the goals in its distribution of international aid and by wielding its influence in the European Union.

In recognition of the fact that inclusivity is at the heart of the SDGs and indispensable to achieving them, such as ending preventable child deaths or ensuring all children learn, Save the Children launched in April the Every Last Child Campaign. This campaign shines a spotlight on groups of children excluded from progress to date because of who they are or where they were born. In every country where we are present, Save the Children is working to galvanize the necessary political will, resources and innovative programs and policies that will accelerate progress and bring “leave no one behind” to life. Our campaign recognizes that the SDGs will not be achieved without ending both poverty, but also discrimination against excluded groups of children. We set out three categories of initiatives – fair finance, equal treatment and accountability – which could turbocharge SDG implementation by overcoming barriers of exclusion.

The SDGs could be transformational but with 14 years still to go, they have yet to generate sufficient urgency. There are opportunities on the horizon to bring forward the magnitude of those goals so leaders feel the weight of their responsibilities to act now to fulfill them. We see the September 19 high level meeting at the United Nations on refugees and migration and President Obama’s September 20 summit on refugees as two such moments to tackle an unprecedented crisis of forcible displacement involving 65 million people, half of whom are children. This crisis has to be resolved if SDG implementation is to get on track. We have called on leaders to commit to provide access to quality education for all 3.6 million refugee children out of school in the near future, in keeping with the SDGs. Making these calls are in the context of defining and agreeing to national interim “stepping stone” targets, such as child survival or learning, will generate urgency by showing the trajectory required in 2020 that is necessary to reach the 2030 goal.

As new leaders take office in coming months in the U.S., at the UN, and in other countries, we will work to promote increased political attention to SDG implementation, improved data and accountability, institutional changes, and a priority focus on excluded groups. The ambitious commitment “to leave no one behind” cannot wait.

 

The Time is Now: Delivering on the SDG Agenda

 

TheGlobalGoals_Logo_and_Icons

There’s no way around feelings of euphoria today.

 

World Leaders at the United Nations are ringing in a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promise to end extreme poverty and the scourge of hunger and preventable deaths of infants and children around the world.

 

At the same time, the Pope is calling for solidarity with the most deprived and those displaced by conflict and climate change.

 

Over the coming days, millions of people globally – from youth in Ghana to Shakira — are taking part in the “world’s largest” prayers, lessons, and ceremonies to light the way for the SDGs. It’s one of those rare moments in which governments, faith institutions, everyday citizens and popular idols unite around a common cause to forge a historic moment.

 

Three years of debate among UN diplomats and millions of citizens voicing their priorities has culminated in the approval today by 193 nations of new Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000. Negotiations on the SDG agenda have been among the most collaborative in UN history. It is truly a global vision for a better world.

 

Furthermore, the SDGs comprise a holistic agenda – 17 goals rather than 8 – with ending extreme poverty at its core supported by a healthy planet in a peaceful world.

 

The goals are bold and ambitious. The trick will be maintaining the momentum once the speeches end, the crowds disperse, and the cameras turn their focus elsewhere.

 

It will take a collective effort to achieve this, but the most defining players will be governments who will bring political will and resources to deliver a better future for their people.

 

Here are six actions that all governments can take to make the SDGs real for their countries:

 

1) Create national action plans to implement the SDGs. Each government should take the SDGs back home, consult widely with local actors, and make policy and programmatic decisions to put the goals into practice in their country. The entire SDG agenda of 17 goals and 169 targets may not be applicable to every country but there are a core set – namely, the “unfinished business of the MDGs”– like health, education and poverty, which do apply to every country and can be acted upon starting today.

 

2) Commit financing to the SDGs. Countries should align their budgets to achieve these outcomes. For the United States, this may mean more investments to reduce deaths caused by obesity, heart disease, or automobile accidents, while for poor countries global health dollars could be invested in community health workers to reduce deaths associated with childbirth and malnutrition.

 

3) Assign a high-level government lead on the SDGs. To ensure rigorous monitoring and accountability, it is important to put in place a focal point on the SDGs who can reach across ministries and carry political weight to ensure action and coordination.

 

4) Communicate a clear commitment to the SDGs. Heads of state can take these goals home and share them with Parliament or Congress and speak to citizens, private companies, and others to contribute financing, technical know-how, and new ideas and innovations to deliver on the SDGs. Citizens should also play a role holding governments’ “feet to the fire” to be accountable for achieving this agenda over the next 15 years.

 

5) Prioritize action to “leave no one behind.” Many times on large agendas such as this one, people try to attain the easy solutions and quick wins. This time, however, the world pledged to achieve progress for the poorest and most vulnerable groups first. This requires investments in gathering and disaggregating data to ensure that all groups benefit from progress and no one is being “left behind,” such as girls living in poverty.

 

6) Publish an annual whole of government report on the SDGs and participate fully in the global follow up and review process. Every country should create progress reports on the SDGs and encourage citizen participation to leverage all resources and people-power in fulfilling the 2030 agenda. This will demand that we work together to strengthen our systems for evaluation and learning in order to scale projects that work and end those that don’t.

 

With the new SDGs, we can build a world in which no child lives in poverty, and where each child has a fair start and is healthy, educated, and safe. But progress toward meeting these goals in each country will depend on more government investment, open and transparent country institutions, participation by a diverse cross-section of civil society, and effective partnerships between government, civil society, private sector, and donors.

 

In 2030 we will judge success by what has been delivered, rather than by our declarations today. Let’s use this historic moment to pave the way for concrete action for children around the world.