History of the Reflection Group (2010-2012)

In its first phase, the group was called "Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives" and consisted of individuals in their expert capacity. This previous Reflection Group was founded in 2010 and worked towards presenting thoughts and ideas towards the 2012 Rio+20 Conference. Find here the previous terms of reference of that first leg of the Reflection Group's work.

Terms of Reference

A joint initiative of Social Watch, Third World Network, DAWN, Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, Global Policy Forum, terre des hommes and Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation

1. Background

In September 2010 the UN General Assembly convened a High-level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This 'MDG Summit' reviewed the successes, obstacles and gaps in the implementation of the goals and adopted a so called “Action Agenda for Achieving the MDGs by 2015”. At the same time, the issues of this Summit provoke a more fundamental debate at political level on the future of the MDGs beyond 2015.

In 2012 the UN will convene the next Summit on Sustainable Development in Brazil, 20 years after the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro. Governments have agreed on the following two topics for the 2012 Summit: green economy within the broader context of sustainable development and poverty eradication along with the institutional framework for sustainable development.

The Summits 2010 and 2012 are confronted with an unprecedented coincidence of global crises: the economic and financial crisis, the food crisis, as well as the intensifying climate crisis. These unresolved crises reflect the failure of the dominant model of development and economic progress that is oriented on a modernization approach, which is blind to environmental and human rights aspects, confuses economic growth with progress in society, and regards poverty as a primarily technical challenge in which categories of inequality and social justice are neglected.

It is time to draw lessons from these crises, to look beyond conventional development concepts and goals and to fundamentally rethink the models and measures of development and social progress – in North and South. The time between the Summits 2010 and 2012 provides a unique window of opportunity to reconsider the current development paradigm and to develop strategies towards a holistic, rights-based development approach.

This discourse can build upon a variety of recent works that explored alternative measures of well-being and social progress and their implications for designing and assessing policies. This includes the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, chaired by Joseph Stiglitz and supported by Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, the Happy Planet Index elaborated by the New Economics Foundation, or the Quality of Life-Report of the Inter-American Development Bank.

2. Initiative

When, in the past, the UN or individual Governments established international expert commissions or independent panels, such as the Brundtland Commission, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) often reacted ex post. They participated in consultations or hearings by invitation; they offered their comments on the reports (through a variety of means). Sometimes representatives of civil society participated in their personal capacity in the panels or commissions themselves.

A year ago, governments decided at the UN conference on the global economic and financial crisis to ask ECOSOC to consider and make recommendations to the UN General Assembly regarding the establishment of an ad hoc panel of experts on the world economic and financial crisis and its impact on development. This decision followed the initiative of the Stiglitz Commission for an International Panel of Expert on Systemic Risks in the Global Economy. Since then, however, Governments and the UN have failed to make any significant progress in establishing such a panel.

Now, it is time for CSOs to become more pro-active. We propose not to wait until the UN decides to establish another expert body and later invites civil society to participate. We therefore take the initiative for a Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives. With this initiative we provide the space for in-depth discussions for an interdisciplinary group of civil society activists and scholars from all parts of the world beyond the usual format of a workshop or a conference.

The group may assess conventional and alternative models of development and well-being, reconsider development goals and indicators, including the MDGs, draw conclusions for future development strategies and provide specific policy recommendations for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development and the MDG process. The work of the Group can build a bridge between the discussions at the MDG Summit 2010 and the Sustainable Development Summit 2012.

The aim of the group is not to reinvent the wheel but build on former and current discourse projects, such as the UNDP led debate about the future of the human development concept, the “What next – another development” project, initiated by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, the interdisciplinary project “Building Global Democracy” and the “Jo’burg Memo” of the Heinrich-Boell-Foundation presented at the Johannesburg Summit 2002.

3. Objectives

The initiative has the following overall objectives:

  • To discuss and assess current and alternative models of development, well-being and social progress, and the development concepts, goals and indicators based on these models, including the MDGs.
  • To draw conclusions and formulate specific recommendations for development policies and institutional reforms in the system of global economic, environment and development governance.
  • To link the discussions about the future of the MDGs with the sustainability discourse.
  • To influence the discourse at the UN on the future of the MDGs and the preparatory process of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012.

4. Issues for discussion

One of the challenges for the Reflection Group will be to translate the findings of the general discussion about alternative models and measures of development and well-being into specific policy recommendations. In order to structure and systematize the work of the group we propose to organize the discussion in four consecutive steps:

Step 1: Models

Step 2: Goals and Indicators

Step 3: Strategies

Step 4: Policy Recommendations

Questions for discussion in the Reflection Group:

Step 1: (Alternative) models of development and well-being – and how to measure progress

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current paradigms of (economic) development and growth? What are alternative models and measures of well-being and social progress beyond the GNI? Can the ethical concept of buen vivir (sumak kawsay) first promoted by indigenous peoples from the Andean region build the basis for an alternative social model? How does it relate to approaches of sustainable development? How to assess green economy concepts discussed in the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit? How to integrate categories of social, gender and environmental justice and human rights?

Step 2: Goals and indicators of a new model of development and well-being beyond the MDGs

If there is a need for an alternative development paradigm, what are the conclusions to be drawn for the MDGs and their indicators? Is there a need for alternative (poverty and wealth) indicators and goals, based on a new model of well-being and social progress? How to link this discussion with the activities in the Rio follow-up process (CSD) on Indicators of Sustainable Development? Is there a need for Global Development Goals, which are applicable for all countries in the world? Can existing alternative indices like the Gross National Happiness Index or the Happy Planet Index be used as a starting point for further debate?

Step 3: Strategies to implement the goals of a new model of development and well-being

How to translate a new model of development, well-being and social progress into policy strategies at national and international level? Is there a need to fundamentally revise existing Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSPs), national MDG strategies or strategies for sustainable development? What are the implications for the political division of labor between global, regional and national level? Is the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility, regarded as one of the cornerstones of the Rio Declaration 1992, still relevant and how to translate it into global policy strategies and decisions? What are the implications for the institutional framework of economic, social and environmental governance (UN, G20 etc)? Is there a change in the relationship between state and non-state actors in a new model of development and well-being? How can demands for „deprivatization“ and a stronger role of the state and public institutions be reconciled with demands for a strengthened role of civil society and its organizations?

Step 4: Policy recommendations for the UN Summit on Sustainable Development 2012

What are the specific policy recommendations of the Reflection Group with regard to the outcome document of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development 2012 and the future of the MDGs beyond the year 2015?

5. Expected Outcome

The expected outcome of the Reflection Group may be a report, to be published in 2012 in advance of the UN Summit on Sustainable Development. Key findings and recommendations may even be published in late 2011. Additional outcomes may be background papers and articles to be commissioned or undertaken by the Reflection Group which could be published, among others, in the Social Watch Reports 2011 and 2012.