Paying for Zero: A new global vision for sustainable development, Mar 7th 2014

When the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were first established nearly 15 years ago, the half-joke reminder among global health experts was that they needed to replace the “M” with a “B” when talking about financing – meaning the solutions required budgets in the order of billions rather than millions of dollars. Today, as the MDGs approach their 2015 deadline and the world negotiates a new global vision for sustainable development, the time has come to shift mindsets from “B” to “T”, since the next frontier is talking about trillions of dollars in required investment throughout the global economy.

To that end, members of the Global Agenda Council on Poverty and Sustainable Development have this week released a report distilling key financing challenges to be addressed in establishing a new generation of global development goals. The report, Paying for Zero: Global Development Finance and the Post-2015 Agenda, stresses the crucial complementary roles and opportunities for public, private and “blended” finance at the domestic and international levels. The word “zero” is used to signal a broad theme of transformation for sustainable development: eliminating extreme poverty, eliminating the most pernicious forms of inequality, and eliminating environmentally unsustainable economic activities.

Stressing ongoing generational shifts in the global development landscape, the report argues that ambitious post-2015 goals will require accompanying ambition and innovation in development finance.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

The conclusions tackle a wide range of issues, including:

  • Development finance will increasingly be integrated across types. Flows from public finance will need to leverage additional private finance, and all forms of finance will need to adhere to common standards of transparency, measurement and reporting.
  • As many developing countries continue to make long-term economic gains, the process of graduation from official development assistance (ODA) needs very careful consideration. For example, emerging lower-middle-income countries, especially those with large numbers of extreme poor, should not face a stark drop-off in access to external finance.
  • It is crucial that the international community place special emphasis on protecting and enhancing properly-targeted ODA budgets. These will need to prioritize the poorest countries and programmes that most effectively reduce poverty. But even with complete success in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030, ODA will continue to play a crucial role tackling many deep global priorities through to 2030 and beyond.
  • Improving the capacity of developing countries to mobilize their own resources should be an important element of ODA, without imposing unwanted conditionalities.
  • Greatly enhanced instruments are needed to incentivize the amount and nature of required private finance post-2015. Big ticket investments in infrastructure, energy and agriculture will all require some degree of blending between public and private sources.
  • Many of the infrastructure investments for sustainable development will be the same ones that determine the future of the world’s climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The report’s release coincides with this week’s meetings of both the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing and the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals at the UN Headquarters in New York. The Global Agenda Council on Poverty and Sustainable Development brings together a variety of eminent leaders and practitioners from public, private and non-profit sectors around the world.  An earlier draft of the paper was circulated for public comment in January.

Author: John McArthur is a Senior Fellow at the United Nations Foundation and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and chair of the Global Agenda Council on Poverty and Sustainable Development.

Image: People walk past closed shops in a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares.


Can we slash poverty and starvation by 2015? Yes, if we get to work [op-ed]

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

If global development targets followed a National Football League format, we would be approaching the two-minute warning. December 31, 2015, marks the final deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the global anti-poverty targets that have mobilized an unprecedented generational success in tackling extreme poverty around the world, most notably the burdens of disease in the poorest countries. We are now facing the final moment to bend the relevant curves of progress. For decision makers, 2013 is the real 2015. [Read more…]

Short ForumLive Interview with Prof Chan Yuen Ying

On Saturday I did a short (if sleep-deprived) ForumLive interview in Davos with Prof Chan Yuen Ying, Director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at Hong Kong University.  In it we talked about some of the issues covered in the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Outlook 2013, which includes some commentary from Prof Chan (and my friend Michael Elliott) on the role of journalism in restoring trust in public institutions, plus some commentary from me and Wu Changhua regarding the MDGs and the post-2015 development agenda.

Video here:


Sifting Headlines and Undercurrents

[This post originally appeared at Forum: Blog]

This year’s Annual Meeting in Davos takes place at a time when nearly every major global policy topic is clouded by concerns of macroeconomic fragility. In the days ahead, I’ll be tracking those issues as closely as any other warm-blooded economist, but I’ll mainly be on the lookout for advances on other global undercurrents, especially those relating to inequality, sustainability and social renewal.

One big question is the extent to which the 2011 “Occupy” and “99%” movements infuse early conversations in 2012. The protestors’ media footprint may be in winter hibernation, but plans are reportedly underway for a spring ramp-up, targeting the US election season in particular. Last year, the protests spurred debates around the globe on core issues of policy fairness. While many question the protestors’ methods, they have received public support from global economic heavyweights ranging from George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, to Mark Carney, the Canadian Central Bank Governor and Chairman of the Financial Stability Board. I’m wondering how mindful people are of the possibilities for a deepening economic protest movement in the months ahead?Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

As ever, I’ll also be focused on how longer-term issues of extreme poverty and sustainability are discussed. The Millennium Development Goals are entering the final phase before the 2015 deadline and this year will see a major environmental focus at the UN’s June Rio+20 summit. Around the world, conversations are taking shape on how a next generation of post-2015 goals could “get to zero” against extreme poverty while more robustly advancing environmental sustainability and equality of opportunity. Some hope Rio+20 will map out new “sustainable development goals”. If done right, such goals could improve significantly on MDG gaps. If framed too broadly, they risk losing the focus that has made the MDGs successful.

Perhaps the most important innovation I’m interested to see this week is the new Global Shapers Community. To the Forum’s credit, it has launched a major effort to invite 20-something year olds from around the world who are already pioneering major contributions in their societies. I have a pet theory that, despite increasing life expectancies, the average age of societal leaders is on a long-term decline, due mainly to the advances in technology. In between the heady formal sessions, let’s hope the wiser elders take time to grab coffee and share insights with the young innovators standing next to them.

What Happens in Davos

[This post originally appeared in February 2011 at Devex and Huffington Post]

The World Economic Forum’s annual Davos conference marks one of the world’s more layered brands. For media leaders, it is an opportunity to take stock of sentiments among global business and policy elites. For business leaders it offers a chance to broker deals and, in some cases, announce publicly-minded initiatives amidst an attentive audience. For politicians and policy leaders, it is a pre-G20 moment to meet with international peers on priority topics for the year ahead, and also to meet with private sector shapers of the global economic agenda. For non-profit leaders and academics, it is a chance to interact with all of the above, and to access a rare concentration of people who affect an uncommon share of the world’s political, economic, and public attention.

This year was the third time that I have attended Davos, and each time the experience has been quite distinct. In 2005 I attended as a staffer in my then-UN capacity, just weeks after the Asian tsunami and 10 days following the release of the UN Millennium Project’s final report, Investing in Development. Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were at the top of everyone’s agenda, including politicians like then-Chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schroeder and likewise celebrity attendees like Bono, Angelina Jolie, Richard Gere, Sharon Stone, and Chris Tucker.
I returned to Davos five years later, in 2010, as CEO of Millennium Promise, a non-governmental organization (NGO) focused on the MDGs. The meeting atmosphere was reserved as the world emerged from the shocks of the global economic crisis. By then I was invited to participate as a member of a group the Forum has been generous enough to designate as Young Global Leaders (YGLs), an initiative that brings together publicly-minded people from business, government, academia and non-profit sectors to learn from each other through regular collaborations over a five year period. For non-profit representatives like myself, the Forum waives its conference fees and encourages us to make the most of the opportunities to connect, brainstorm, and problem-solve with representatives from all sectors around the globe.

In the lead up to last year’s Davos events I worked with Johann Koss, Olympic champion and CEO of the NGO Right to Play, and dozens of other members of the YGL community to launch a new initiative through which private individuals and organizations could make their own targeted, time-bound, and measurable pledges to support the achievement of the MDGs. Economists like Esther Duflo and Kristin Forbes of MIT joined with Michael Kremer of Harvard to make an MDG deworming pledge. Zainab Salbi of Women for Women made an MDG pledge, as did Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and many other leaders in their respective fields. The Forum’s YGL initiative made this entire effort possible, and all of the pledges are publicly registered on, which also now partners with the UN Foundation.

This year in 2011, Davos brought many memorable moments. The press reports generally focused on the cautious optimism of the politicians and the regulatory concerns of the business leaders. But there are so many parallel conversation streams within Davos that everyone forms their own narrative. For me, a highlight in the formal program came when Bill Clinton described the MDGs as a non-optional part of the long-term US economic strategy. Another was to watch David Cameron’s political mastery as he conducted a roving Q&A with a plenary room as if it were a local town hall. Many reported the playing of Aung San Suu Kyi’s taped message as a highpoint, although unfortunately I wasn’t there to see it in the moment. On the sides of the meeting, it was invigorating to see the modernizing social network influences on this remote Swiss conference center as Twitter feeds streamed everywhere and Facebook’s Randi Zuckerburg webcasted a constant stream of live interviews with personalities ranging from Nick Kristof of the New York Times, to Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace, to former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Meanwhile, YGL friends were very pleased to present the first annual report on the MDG Pledges, and to launch the new website that makes it possible for any organization or individual to register their own MDG film Fifty Shades Darker

Amidst the ebb and flow of events, Davos is a rare moment to connect a rapid succession of informal meetings with leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors. My own schedule included a breakfast with Paul Kagame, Tony Blair, Michael Porter and major CEOs discussing new foreign investment opportunities in Rwanda. There was the conversation on expanding agricultural credit facilities with a senior African policy maker; then the technology brainstorm with a Silicon Valley leader around a global graduate degree program I help coordinate; then a discussion with an eminent philanthropist on how new technology can foster more collaborative problem-solving between the world’s richest and poorest communities; followed by a strategy session with one of Mozambique’s leading civil society voices on how to empower citizens’ debates around the MDGs. Each of these conversations was inspiring in its own way. Together they afford a patchwork view of how various global conversations could better thread together through concerted efforts.

There is a broad understanding that many people of influence and wealth gather in Davos every year to discuss topics of mutual interest. This is fair enough in a free associating society where private companies pay membership dues to attend a major meeting and keep the trains running. At the same time, there should be greater understanding that large numbers of people with enormous goodwill and much-deserved moral influence convene in Davos every year to identify new ways to collaborate and discuss topics of global public concern. With access comes responsibility to speak on behalf of those without. Perhaps contrary to popular imagination, Davos convenes large numbers of people who live that responsibility every day. I know because I had the privilege to meet many of them last week.

Communities of Action to End Extreme Poverty

co-authored with Johann Koss

[This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post on January 25, 2011]

This week in Davos, Switzerland, policy leaders from around the world will convene amidst a range of profound undercurrents that are redefining many tenets of global cooperation. At one side of the spectrum, longstanding economic powers are grappling with high unemployment, tight budgets, and a profound sense of economic fragility. At another side, emerging economies that teetered on the brink of ruin barely a decade ago are now the apples of investors’ eyes globally. Meanwhile prices for the world’s most fundamental commodity — food — are breaching all time records, starkly highlighting the persistent challenges entailed in meeting basic human needs. High food prices prompt alarm for the huge numbers with scarce resources to buy it, alongside quiet pride among the farmers and investors fortunate enough to benefit from selling it.

Far away from the conference centers, the pace of technological innovation continues unabated. Hundreds of millions more people are getting access to mobile phones and the Internet every year, and social networking entrepreneurs are finding new and exciting ways every day for all of those people to connect at personal, professional, and humanitarian levels. The unprecedented ability of geographically diffuse communities to link and act around common interests marks one of the great transformations of our time.

But the inevitable focus on navigating new global sources of influence and power cannot be left to overshadow the persistent challenges faced by the world’s poorest and least influential people — the ones whom the world has spent 10 years promising to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to cut extreme poverty in its many forms by half by 2015. With roughly one fifth of humanity still living on less than $1/day, the global community must take advantage of the latest tools available to fulfill its commitments.A Dog’s Purpose 2017 film trailer

To that end, a year ago more than 60 members of the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders made public pledges at the Forum’s Annual Meeting Davos, committing their own private individual and organizational efforts to time-bound, quantified and practical initiatives that can help achieve the MDGs. This week, at the 2011 annual meeting, the MDG Pledges initiative is launching its first major progress report, which is also posted on

Over the past year, many MDG pledges have made exciting progress. For example, Veronica Colondam and the YCAB Foundation have helped to educate more than 2,700 school drop outs in Indonesia. Leading economists Esther Duflo, Kristin Forbes, Michael Kremer, and Vikram Akula, through Deworm the World, have dewormed more than 3 million children. Zainab Salbi and Women for Women International have supported nearly 43,000 women survivors of war across a range of developing countries. James Kondo and Table for Two have helped to deliver approximately 6 million school meals in Africa. And at a person-to-person scale, Alec Oxenford and the Germinare Foundation have helped two students receive a full scholarship that will enable them to complete both primary and secondary school.

These pledges reflect the spirit of the Millennium Developing Goals, one in which everyone must make their best effort to contribute however they can. The pledges are not a supplement for government action. They are an invitation to other individuals and organizations to make their own pledges for the goals, and to register them publicly on More than anything, they are indicative of how far and fast an interconnected global community can move forward together, when individuals and organizations decide to collaborate in tackling the world’s most pressing challenges.