Thursday, January 8, 2015

Let us not rest on our laurels

I’m on my way back from four days in Barbados, for the ninth and final workshop of the initial series of what is now Regions Refocus 2015. This Caribbean meeting was one of the best in a process bookended by small island states (with the Pacific meeting first, in June) with each meeting full of incredible people, good food, interesting side trips (Machu Picchu, for one), and truly interesting and productive meetings.

Let us not rest on our laurels, intoned the Barbadian representative of the Ministry of Finance during the opening of the regional workshop, upstairs in the cricket hall at University of the West Indies, Cave Hill. (The walls were decorated with the cream of the crop of Barbados’s cricket stars, black and white photographs of “the quintessentially elegant” King so-and-so, descriptors of the players’ prowess at batting and consistently sharp style. The IGDS professors wore ankara dresses and summarily dispatched the crispest moderation I have yet to witness -- informing us that no, the internet does not work, end of discussion.) And following that instruction, the workshop got right to the point. It tackling difficult issues (the narcotics industry, divisions between the women’s rights movement and that for LGBT rights) and innovative ones (a somewhat un-PC descriptor of the Caribbean’s comparative advantage in tourism, the business potential for regional expertise should the US completely legalize marijuana). Scholars and activists from a lot of sectors, ages, and countries came up with concrete proposals and energized plans for the way forward.

At lunch the first day, I had an interesting (and somewhat concerning) conversation with the head of the co-sponsoring institute at the university. I was telling her about our project, about some of the workshops we’ve co-organized and places we’ve gotten to go (nine regional meetings, eight sub-regions, nine months). Rather than asking about the project, she turned to me and said how incredible this must have been for me, and asked how it feels to travel the world learning about the negative effects of American policies on other places. I told her I feel very grateful (for the first part) and consistently disturbed (re: the second), and said I don’t know for sure, but I think I’ll probably end up working on American policy eventually. As an American, you’re only allowed to learn for so long before you have to go do try to something about it, I said. She agreed, with a slight nod of her intricately dreded head.

So, I’m incredibly proud of our project and of having helped to start it, thrilled about where it’s going and where it might take me, and gearing up for a whole lot of work to launch the first phase and continue with the second. But as Chris, our bespectacled taxi driver, responded while being grilled by one of the most impressive and intimidating participants, ideas are the number one thing that’s missing in the leadership of Barbados and the region. Our project is contributing to amending that deficit, at the global level. I’m contributing some of it, especially in the report and in the planning of phase II. But let me not rest on my laurels either, in terms of my own responsibilities and in outlining my career. We may have lay on the beach this trip, but our laptops sat squarely in our laps.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Barbara Paper Is Finished (Confronting Development, published by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung)

I spent most of the past five months working on this paper with Barbara Adams, analyzing the SDGs. It's finally finished, and published! 

In the year 2000, the world’s leaders assembled at the Millennium Summit to affirm their commitment to an ambitious development agenda, later distilled into eight “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs). The summit famously called, among other demands, for concrete and time-bound action to eradicate extreme poverty. Criticized from the outset for being crafted without broad consultation, for an excessive focus on “measurable,” quantitative goals, and for lack of accountability—especially for rich countries—the MDGs’ accomplishments have been dubious and uneven. As the MDGs’ expiration approaches in September 2015, their failure is unavoidable.
With this deadline approaching, the United Nations are presently considering what the world’s development agenda should be post-2015. In September, two distinct UN processes—the Open Working Group and the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing—are expected to converge in the 2015 Global Summit. These processes have been the fulcrums so far of efforts to shape the future agenda. They have benefited from wide-ranging substantive contributions and expertise, and have also generated diverse approaches to participation and engagement.
These parallel processes are taking place in a broader context defined by the Millennium Development Agenda, 2012’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, and the Financing for Development conferences. As the MDGs give way to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is necessary to ask, what is it that makes them sustainable? Who are the main actors shaping the goals, and what are their main interests? What role do business interests play, and what opportunities exist for member states, civil society, social movements, and others to shape these goals?
In this study, Barbara Adams and Kathryn Tobin give their take on the post-2015 process and suggest how various actors can intervene to shape these goals. Trained as an economist, Adams has spent decades working in (and writing about) international politics both in and out of the UN, including at the Quaker United Nations Office in New York, the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Tobin is an independent consultant for several UN-based organizations. She has previously worked for UN-NGLS as well as for NGOs and educational institutions in New York and Uganda.
The Sustainable Development Goals will help shape the global development agenda for years to come. They will affect not only the UN’s Secretariat, funds, and programmes but each member state as well as non-governmental organizations and the private sector around the world. If these processes converge to create an agenda that is universal and effective and which holds governments and others to account—that is to say if the UN lives up to its founding values—then it will reassert itself as the unique multilateral forum for addressing the many conflicts and crises that cannot be resolved by individual nations. Such an accomplishment would have implications not only for development work but across a whole spectrum of issues, and it is not too late for the United Nations—that is the organization, member states, and international civil society—to make it happen.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Regions Refocus 2015, a new initiative fostering regional and feminist solidarities toward justice

In 2015 the world’s governments will define a global agenda for sustainable development, amidst global trends of rising inequality, declining economic growth rates, and mega public-private partnerships accelerating the scramble for resources, assets, and markets. In this context, a new initiative housed at the Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Foundation – Regions Refocus 2015 – fosters regional and feminist solidarities toward justice.

Please join us on 26 January for the launch of Regions Refocus 2015, at the Ford Foundation Headquarters or online via live webcast at This event and collaborative publication will present experiences of advancing progressive public policies based on nine regional workshops held over the past nine months in partnership with civil society, government, sub-regional alliances, and the UN. Just as negotiations get underway for the Third Conference on Financing for Development and the Post-2015 Summit, this launch will feature regional perspectives on overcoming global obstacles that impede structural change for justice.

We hope you will be able to join us in New York or online for the launch of Regions Refocus 2015. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @ReFocus2015 and join the conversation using #ReFocus2015. More information is attached and on our newly launched website, here:

Regions Refocus 2015
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
Twitter: @ReFocus2015
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Sunday, October 5, 2014

a little colder

Happy Sunday night, the first beautiful fall Sunday of the year. I spent it huddled in the garage, typing with fingerless gloves and (eventually) drinking one of my brother's Coronas (after I turned the heat on). Still working on my SDGs paper, which is alternately depressing and fascinating and boring and hard. It really needs to be done soon though, both because of the deadline and because, drumroll please,

Full-time work on the DHF project starts tomorrow! We're planing five regional meetings between now and the end of the year, the first in Lima, Peru on financial transparency. (After which I am going to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, yay.) More updates coming soon after we implement our very exciting solid comms plan and website.

I've been thinking a lot about The Future, especially since apparently all long-term planning sends me into spirals of anxiety. (Last night I dreamed I had to move my entire apartment out to the street without assistance, piece by piece, and last week I dreamed my friend C* and I were randomly in charge of two tiny babies at an orphanage. Gasp, adulthood awaits!) Spending a week in Mexico working as rapporteur for the RESURJ retreat was an incredible experience in lots of ways (made friends, drank tequila, spent lunchtimes lying in a beach chair, sent baby turtles on their way into the sea, etc) but mainly admiring this incredible group of women and their shared activist path. I was jealous, I wanted to be one of them, I wanted to have a thing that I care about more than all other work things and to be working towards one singular goal. But I don't see myself as an activist, exactly, just a facilitator with an activist bent. And I'll have to figure out what to do with that in life... I'm sure I'll think of something.

But in the meantime, I am so grateful that this project has become a full-time gig and I can't wait to see what comes of it. And in other exciting news, my sister Becky is getting married! So this large blonde muzungu will have to get myself in a gomesi for her introduction ceremony in Uganda in December. Yay.

Some parting thoughts:
ixtapa sunset (mexico)

and the album/song I can't stop listening to:

Friday, September 5, 2014

An important reminder

Double standards beget cynicism, apathy, corruption and deterioration of democratic life and the very social fabric that holds communities together. Double standards also motivate people to raise their voices, organise, demand transparency and advocate for change. Therein lies our hope.
                            - Roberto Bissio, Prologue, The Social Impact of Globalization in the World (2002)

Reading through old Social Watch reports for the paper I'm writing...

Another observation, this one from 2008:

In October 2008, when the crisis hit the financial institutions and stock markets of the OECD member countries, their governments started a massive and unprecedented programme of government intervention, nationalizing banks, injecting massive subsidies into ailing institutions and re-regulating their financial sectors.
This response sits in direct contrast to the austere neoliberal policies pressed on developing countries by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and developed countries for the past 30 years. Governments in the South, as abundantly documented in this report, have been pushed to liberalize trade barriers, deregulate financial and labour markets, privatize national industries, abolish subsidies, and reduce social and economic spending. The State saw its role severely reduced. 
This double standard is unacceptable. The international financial system, its architecture and its institutions have been completely overwhelmed by the scale of the current financial and economic crisis. The financial system, its architecture and its institutions must be completely rethought. [...]
                                                      - Roberto Bissio, Rights in the Time of Crisis (Introduction) (2008)

And also, we're still waiting for the results of this point, depressingly prescient and as relevant now as in 2008...

The developing countries have been affected by the falling prices of their export commodities, the devaluation of their currencies against the dollar, the rising interest rates on their debts, outflow of foreign investments and lack of credit. If the world is plunging into a global recession the result will be unemployment and with it an erosion of the rights and the standard of living of workers everywhere.  [...]
It is therefore critical that all countries have a say in the process to change the international financial architecture. No equitable and sustainable solutions to transform the current system will come out of gatherings that are rapidly-prepared and exclude many developing countries as well as civil society. Such efforts are in fact more likely to further undermine public trust and confidence, and to further disenfranchise countries that are already opting for regional solutions over a stronger, more coherent and fairer international financial system. [...]
Many difficult issues will have to be addressed and agreed upon in the transition from the current system – which has fostered instability and inequity – towards a just, sustainable and accountable one, which yields benefits for the majority of the world’s people. In such a system human rights must be the starting point and not some distant goal in the future, and a rights-based approach to development (with gender equality, decent work and human rights at its core) must be the main guiding principle. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Living the dream (?)

I'm currently working on my first commissioned article - as in, the first article I will get paid to write, as a product in itself rather than just part of my job or an item on an invoice. It's pretty exciting, in theory... the subject of the article (an overview of the SDGs) less so.
I am so sick of hearing about the SDGs, which is problematic given that the real negotiation process for post-2015 hasn't even started (and won't for months) and I seem to be locked into this scene given that it's where I've spent the most significant part of my career. Not that I'm not grateful - I am, extremely, especially when I think about the people I've met and the things I've learned and the concepts I now understand. I'm grateful for having gotten to go to Rio+20 and then cover the SDGs process, grateful that I'll still be around, probably, to see what happens next and keep doing work with some amazing organizations around this process. This "package" of the UN's work encompasses an incredible amount of interesting issues, and will potentially affect a lot of people's lives.
And hey, I get to write! I've always said all I wanted is to write... so I need to go write the article, dammit, and then draft the interview for the one after that, and pull together some pieces for the paper after that. It's an August full of writing, which is exactly what I want. And of traveling, my other favorite activity. First Uganda, then London (on miles, yay) - to squeeze my godson, see friends, eat Nile perch and posho, buy things I don't need at Banana Boat, spend quality time with my host fam, and sit outside in a plastic chair drinking a Tusker and listening to reggae. Yes please.

squeezing my godson, Aug 2012
squeezing my godson, May 2013

squeezing my godson, August 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mercy Global Action Advocates at the UN for the Right to Water and Sanitation

As part of my ongoing consultancy for the Sisters of Mercy/Mercy International/the Mining Working Group at the UN, I wrote the article below, about the important work on the human right to water and sanitation that my colleagues have led over the past few months. Even though the Open Working Group won't end up including the language we want - including the explicit mention of the right - in its report, we're proud of our efforts and will keep working. 

In accordance with the Sisters’ of Mercy great concern with the future sustainability and availability of water for all, Mercy Global Action has focused much of our recent advocacy work at the UN on the human right to water and sanitation.
Davide Restivo. under CCO

Particularly through convening the Mining Working Group at the UN, we have been advocating for the inclusion of the human right to water and sanitation in the ongoing discussions of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our message to governments, UN officials, and fellow civil society organizations has consistently focused on the need for the SDGs to prioritize – for present and future generations – the human right to water for health, life, food, and culture over other demands on water resources.

Over the past few months, the Mining Working Group has made a series of oral statements in OWG meetings, submitted detailed recommendations for text amendments to subsequent iterations of the OWG draft, and written a series of advocacy letters – to the UN Secretary-General, to the co-chairs and government representatives of the Open Working Group, and to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. We have met with almost 30 governments at the UN, tracked their positions, and targeted several groupings of member states based on the progression of their views on water and sanitation.

Significantly, the MWG and the Blue Planet Project spearheaded a joint letter on the urgent need to protect and promote the human right to water and sanitation in the Sustainable Development Goals. This letter was sent to every UN government on June 13, and has so far been signed by more than 300 civil society organizations all over the world. 

Through Mercy Global Action, Sisters of Mercy and our partners in mission have strongly engaged in this advocacy effort, sending letters to their national governments in anticipation of the OWG meetings and signing on to the global letter writing campaign. This letter is available online, along with the list of its signatures, on the World We Want web platform.

In accordance with our universal approach to analyzing systemic, structural and root causes of poverty and injustice, in our advocacy around the OWG we call for the promotion of a hierarchy of use that places potable water and sanitation, small-scale food production, ecosystem needs and cultural use before large-scale commercial use. We insist that the SDGs must take a people-centered approach, categorically rejecting the commodification and privatization of water. In line with our consistent advocacy for a rights-based approach to natural resource management, we advocate for a human rights-based approach that explicitly names the right to water and sanitation, aligns targets to the human rights framework, and guarantees non-discrimination, accountability, and public participation in decision-making. We insist on a meaningful commitment on the human right to water and sanitation must include indicators that accurately measure safety, affordability, accessibility and acceptability of water and sanitation services from the perspectives of rights holders. Our advocacy is grounded in the experience of Sisters of Mercy and our partners in mission in their work all over the world, fighting against the poisoning and destruction of watersheds from Cajamarca to Patagonia to Newfoundland.

As the Open Working Group nears the end of its mandate and its thirteenth and final session nears, it remains to be seen whether its report will in fact include an explicit mention of the human right to water and sanitation, as we have advocated so strongly for over the past months. Either way, Mercy Global Action will continue our work at the UN setting to hold governments accountable for the commitments they have made. Moreover, we will continue to promote a sustainable and forward-looking global agenda that prioritizes people’s human rights and the protection of the environment in all regions of the world.

Read the original article on the Mercy World website here.