Post-2015 – Why Should Bhutan Care?

Mar 24th, 2014 | By | Category: Bhutan

NDP-reportIf I told people that my position is called “Post-2015 National Coordinator”, majority wouldn’t have the faintest idea what such a person actually does. This article tries to explain what post-2015 means, and what is its relevance to Bhutan

Today the world celebrates the UN International Day of Happiness, marked for the second time. Bhutan initiated the Day to raise awareness on the need for a more holistic approach to development.

The happiness day is essentially linked to the ongoing discussion led by the UN, commonly called “Post-2015 development agenda”. Leaders all over the world, from governments to civil society organisations and businesses are debating what the future global development priorities should be after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

Like MDGs, the post-2015 development goals – tentatively named as “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) – will steer the development policies and funding in Bhutan. Besides local issues, Bhutan also faces the effects of climate change and other issues that require global solutions.

Bhutan’s role in post-2015

Bhutan has already contributed to the post-2015 development agenda in multiple ways.  Last spring the UN System in Bhutan, in partnership with the GNH Commission Secretariat and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, heard from Bhutanese people through the post-2015 national consultations, one of the 88 such consultations conducted worldwide. These consultations consisted of televised debates in five different dzonkhags, an online discussion and individual interviews. The final report stressed the importance of GNH thinking: placing happiness as the ultimate goal for development and the need for equity and sustainability.

At the UN level, Bhutan has also been very active. After initiating the General Assembly Resolution titled Happiness: Towards a holistic approach to development in July 2011, Bhutan hosted a High-Level Meeting on Wellbeing & Happiness at the UN Headquarters in New York in April 2012. This led to the establishment of the New Development Paradigm (NDP) initiative and the GNH-inspired report Happiness: Towards a New Development Paradigm that was submitted to the UN in December 2013. Public forums called Imagine Change are currently being held in Thimphu to gather feedback for the NDP report, to catalyse discussion and to spark solutions for action in local communities.

Bhutan’s efforts have stirred discussion on measuring development more holistically, in terms of societal happiness and the wellbeing of all life forms. Other domains that Bhutan has previously highlighted on, for example the role of culture and spirituality in development are still largely missing from the proposed SDGs in the post-2015 conversations.

UN wants to hear from you

MDGs were criticised for having been drafted by a few experts through a very top-down process. Now the UN has vowed to go about it in a different fashion, trying to hear as many voices as possible, even from those living in extreme poverty. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated: “I want this to be the most inclusive development process the world has ever known.”

Opening up the discussion comes with a price: a countless number of different actors are involved in the post-2015 consultations, trying to push for their own agenda. For example my organization, United Nations Volunteers (UNV), is advocating for stronger acknowledgement of volunteerism and civic engagement in the post-2015 development agenda. Many simultaneous consultations are taking place online and offline, from New York to Thimphu, perhaps making it harder to understand what the common thread is.

This complexity of the post-2015 process could be a reason why it has been less discussed in the media or among the public in Bhutan. Even after dedicating several months to understand who the different actors are, how the process works and when should one act to influence things most, I am myself still puzzled by this famous “post-2015”.

How could we expect ordinary people to understand it at the grassroots level?

Yet it is crucial for people to know what is going on globally, and how it will affect their future locally. How can an ordinary citizen participate? One way to start is the MY World global survey by the UN, through which anyone can vote for their six personal priorities for development, either online or offline. In many countries volunteer groups have collected MY World offline paper ballots, particularly to reach those who are usually not heard.

More than one and half million have voted in the MY World survey so far. Bhutanese voters – currently 217 of them – have chosen better education, better healthcare and honest and responsive government as their top three priorities at the moment.

From subjects of development to active citizens

Although the MY World exercise looks like a seemingly simplistic method to make people participate in a superficial way, it can trigger more long-term engagement. A volunteer from India says: “The best thing I found about the survey is that our students have started thinking beyond cricket and mobile phones – about critical issues that affect them.” The aim is not only to hear from people in this consultation phase, but also to have them involved in the implementation of the future development goals later on.

The UN Member states will start negotiating on the precise goals and indicators next September, hopefully reaching an agreement by the end of 2015. Although an individual cannot do much to influence this high-level discussion, groups of people can. Thousands of people passionate for issues such as youth participation, environment or human rights have mobilised themselves for example through civil society organisations, and reached out to their governments who have the final say on the post-2015 development agenda.

The post-2015 process has shown that people no longer want to be mere subjects of development, but active citizens able to influence the decisions affecting them. Ultimately it is a choice of either at least trying to engage and understand the process, or leaving the power to others. Ideally this process would build a movement of civically engaged people around the world who want to make a difference: not only by checking how well governments and businesses keep their promises, but also by acting as agents of change in their own communities.

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