Copenhagen plus 10 fights to keep social development at center stage

Advocates for the world's poor, the unemployed, and the disempowered, laboring under the shadow of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and all that followed, indicated they were hard-pressed merely to hold ground on social development promises.

UNITED NATIONS – In 1995, in the glow of a post-cold war euphoria that the world's great social problems had at long last moved ahead of security on the international agenda, world leaders gathered in Copenhagen and forged a new global plan for “people-centered” development.

In February 2005, however, at the ten-year review of the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), many suggested that security concerns have once again partly displaced compassion and social justice on the international agenda.

“A novel and disturbing component of the international climate for social development has been the reappearance of security issues on the centre stage of national and international debate,” said a report addressed to the Commission from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Advocates for the world's poor, the unemployed, and the disempowered, laboring under the shadow of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and all that followed, indicated they were hard-pressed merely to hold their ground in the new international environment.

For many, then, it was a victory that the nations gathered for 43rd session of the Commission on Social Development (CSD) issued a declaration simply upholding the main principles adopted ten years earlier in Copenhagen with no dilution or retreat.

Meeting from 9 to 18 February 2005, the 46 nations that compose the Commission issued a 10-point declaration that, among other things, stressed that the Copenhagen commitments and the more recently agreed upon Millennium Development Goals “are mutually reinforcing” and “crucial to a coherent, people-centered approach to development.”

“We…dedicate ourselves, a decade after Copenhagen…to building solidarity, and renew our invitation to all people in all countries and in all walks of life, as well as the international community, to join in realizing our shared vision for a more just and equitable world,” the Commission's Declaration said.

“Therefore,” the Commission concluded, “we reaffirm our will and commitment to continue implementing the Declaration and Program of Action, in particular to eradicate poverty, promote full and productive employment and foster social integration to achieve stable, safe and just societies for all.”

The Social Summit, held March 1995 in Copenhagen, was at the time the largest gathering of world leaders ever held. Some 115 world leaders pledged to make the conquest of poverty, the goal of full employment, and the fostering of social integration the overriding objectives of national and international development efforts.

Specifically, the Copenhagen Declaration and Program of Action called for a comprehensive, compassionate, and people-centered approach to social and economic development worldwide. It stressed especially the need to empower women and marginalized groups everywhere, and asked for the industrialized countries to devote more to the most needy, whether at home or overseas.

The Copenhagen agreements also urged governments to bring civil society and private enterprise into a stronger partnership, affirming the importance of involving people at the grassroots level in formulating local and regional development policies.

Secretary-General's Conclusions

Mr. Annan's report to the Commission concluded that, overall, progress has been mixed in realizing Copenhagen 's goals. While some statistical indicators showed a reduction of poverty and an improved access to primary education, the overarching goal of creating a sustainable, people-centered, “enabling environment” for social development had fallen short, with international policy makers tending to focus more on economics than human beings and their needs.

“[T]he all-encompassing approach to development as advanced by the Summit has been lost or severely weakened in the international policy-making arena,” said the report. “While poverty has taken its rightful place of prominence, the comprehensive socio-economic understanding of poverty promoted by the Summit stands in contrast to the narrower concept and measurement currently used. In addition, the other two core themes of the Summit, namely full employment and social integration, have been by and large left aside, if not ignored.”

Moreover, said the report, some regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, have, in fact, barely improved statistically, “and some indicators have regressed.” Even though international development assistance increased to sub-Saharan Africa by a few percentage points from 1995 to 2001, the report said, per capita income economic growth in the region had decelerated, with per capita income in Africa declining from US$520 to US$469.

The report said that despite promises for increased international development assistance from donor countries, most have failed to meet the target of 0.7 percent gross national product in such assistance.

“On the positive side, democratization and the increasingly important role of civil society organizations as partners for social development, despite the decline in the role of trade unions, helped to promote transparency and accountability,” the report said. “However, the actual implementation of policy still lags behind.”

In the Commission's Declaration, governments not only sought to reaffirm the basic commitments at Copenhagen, they also included language aimed specifically at some of the more egregious failures in meeting Copenhagen's goals, specifically with regard to the spread of HIV/AIDS and deep poverty in Africa.

Governments also stated that they recognize that “ten years after Copenhagen, despite the efforts made and progress achieved in economic and social development, the situation of many developing countries, particularly in Africa and the least developed countries as well as countries with economies in transition, requires further attention and action….”

Governments speak

More than 20 government ministers addressed the meeting, an unusually high level for a UN Commission meeting, which reflected the degree of seriousness with which the UN approached the review of the Copenhagen accords.

At the center of many government statements — as well as in statements by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies — was the need to link the Copenhagen vision for comprehensive development to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by world leaders in 2000. The MDGs set measurable targets for action again poverty, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women.

In the view of many at the Commission, the MDGs, while important, are too narrowly focused. “Social development…has a broad canvas beyond structured commitments and a set of goals and targets,” said Zulfiqur Rahman, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Bangladesh. “We need to embrace a holistic approach for social development with all stakeholders on board and forgetting none.”

Civil Society Forum

The importance of keeping to Copenhagen 's comprehensive vision was the main theme of the one-day Civil Society Forum held 8 February, which was attended by about 150 NGO representatives.

“Copenhagen provided us with a framework where we can take a global view,” said Huguette Redegeld, vice president of International Movement ATD Fourth World. “Extreme poverty is not limited just to income but includes issues of access to health, and so on. It is also inseparable from human rights. We have to be sure that the Millennium Development Goals do not become a step backwards from the Copenhagen Declaration.”

NGOs issued a declaration of their own, stating that “we believe that governments of the world by and large have neglected the commitments made ten years ago. It is shameful that in this age of extraordinary wealth and rapid technological progress 1.2 billion people live in extreme and chronic poverty, when measured by economics alone.”

Bahá'í participation

For its part, the Bahá'í International Community was an active participant in the Forum — and in the Commission meeting itself.

Bahiyyih Chaffers, a Bahá'í International Community Representative to the UN, chaired one of the Forum's main panel discussions, a round-table on “Why Copenhagen Matters for the Millennium Development Goals.”

A member of the executive committee of the NGO Committee on Social Development, Ms. Chaffers said the “age-old dream of global peace” cannot be established without “a galvanizing vision of global prosperity” marked by the “material and spiritual well-being” of all the world's inhabitants.

On 10 February, Haleh Arbab Correa, representing the Bahá'í-inspired development organization FUNDAEC, participated in a high-level panel on “Promoting Full Employment,” sitting side by side with ministers and ambassadors from more than 20 countries.

Dr. Arbab Correa also discussed the importance of taking into consideration humanity's spiritual reality in her comments.

Saying that education was key to promoting full employment, she emphasized the importance of training young people with the skills and capabilities they will need to create a better world.

“As a Bahá'í-inspired institution, we emphasize the importance of spiritual and moral values,” said Dr. Arbab Correa. “Our program focuses on the spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects of the human being.”

She said also that a key motivating factor in such training is to focus on the importance of service to humanity, more than merely self-enrichment.

“If we want to train human beings to participate in the construction of a better world, it is important to emphasize the service aspect,” she said.

Dr. Arbab Correa also participated in a “side event” at the CSD, on “Participation Works: International Success Stories in the Fight Against Poverty,” where she presented the experience of FUNDAEC, which is based in Colombia.

“People should not be looked at as problems,” said Dr. Arbab Correa, who is Rector of FUNDAEC's University Center for Rural Well-being. “People are resources. Development requires participation. People can take charge of their own development with proper education.”

FUNDAEC, a Spanish acronym for “The Foundation for the Application and Teaching of the Sciences,” is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization with 30 years of experience in rural Colombia.

Too often, said Dr. Arbab Correa, people are viewed as consumers, simply part of the market. But society is not a jungle, and development programs should aim at cooperation instead of competition.

“Human beings have a noble, spiritual aspect,” said Dr. Arbab Correa. “The role of education and development is to bring out those potentialities.”