Ida Urso, Ph.D.
Ida Urso, Ph.D., is Founder/President of the Aquarian Age Community, a non-profit accredited nongovernmental organization (NGO) in association with the UN Department of Public Information. This article is an extract from a more extensive report, which may be found at: http://www.aquaac.org. For information, about the meditation initiative, “The Spiritual Work of the United Nations and the Liberation of Humanity,” write to
The 57th Annual DPI/NGO Conference
“Millennium Development Goals: Civil Society Takes Action”
8 to 10 September 2004; United Nations Headquarters—New York City
The image on the agenda booklet of the 57th UN/NGO Conference is a most telling and symbolic statement about this year's NGO conference. It depicts a chain of people efforting to raise the globe of earth up a set of stairs; concerned humanity—cooperatively striving to uplift Earth up the stairs of consciousness, thus lessening and eliminating suffering, darkness and despair.
One newspaper publication of the Millennium Campaign (http://www.millenniumcampaign.org) made available at the Conference put it this way, "In September 2000, 189 nations came together and agreed on 8 goals to make the world a better place for everyone." Then each page of the newspaper is dedicated in large, bold type to one of the following possibilities:
- What if governments lived up to their promise?
- What if everyone could eat when they were hungry?
- What if everyone were guaranteed a basic education?
- What if everyone were equal regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion?
- What if A.I.D.S. disappeared?
- What if more mothers and children survived the miracle of childbirth?
- What if environmental resources were here for generations to come?
- What if everyone were to work together as a global community?
- What if you could make it happen?
The newspaper concludes, "Meeting the 8 Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will require all of us to hold our governments to their promise. Lend your voice [this author would add, ‘your heart and your mind’] for this unique opportunity." (Please visit the following website which enumerates the 8 goals: http://www.un-ngls.org/mdg.htm)
Making their way through an unusual downpour of rain and putting up with the long lines created as every single person went through strict security procedures, 2700 plus representatives from over 700 Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) from 90 countries came to participate in an extraordinary conference.
In this my 14th year of participation, I was struck by what seemed to me to be a yearly climaxing depth of commitment, focus and a positive, cooperative and collaborative "can do" attitude that refuses to entertain the word, "can't." Civil society, government, faith based and media representatives, UN diplomats and staff, youth and more were all applying heart and mind energies to the question of how can we best achieve the 8 potentially world transforming goals, now agreed upon by all 191 member States of the United Nations.
These 8 goals—the Millennium Development Goals, the “MDGs”, referred to by Shashi Tharoor, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, as an acronym for “Making A Difference for Good,” are, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “a test for all of us.” Further quoting Mr. Annan, he stated, “We have an historic opportunity to end extreme poverty and to set the world on a safer, more just and humane path, but there is no time to lose. Every day we don’t act, people suffer. And if the goals are not met, we will all be poorer and less secure.”
Eveline Herfkens, Executive Coordinator of the UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign, enthusiastically underscored the importance of civil society in both articulating the goals and in ensuring their realization. She also addressed two criticisms of the goals: one, that they are not ambitious enough. For those who thus complain, she encouraged: “Please, raise the bar!” The second criticism is that these goals cannot be achieved. To this she responded, “I want you to join me by simply not accepting that these goals are not going to be achieved!! The world has the resources. We’ve never been richer. We know what to do; we know what the solutions are and please don’t get disheartened by so many reports, including from the UN system that so many countries are off track of so many of the goals, accentuating the negative, the glass is half empty….Please reject this undue pessimism because these goals are doable.”
Joining every speaker at the conference in her affirmation of the need for unprecedented cooperation and collaboration, Ms. Herfkens encouraged the creation of “grand alliances” and the need to “act locally while thinking globally.” She quoted Secretary-General Kofi Annan who often underscores the necessity for local/national/UN cooperation: “Political will shifts only if there is national and local mobilization by the public and only when national leaders are held accountable.” The UN, as Mr. Annan often reminds us, “is only as strong as its members allow it to be.”
Necessary to the realization of these goals is a recognition of “the division of labour” required between the developing and the developed countries of the world: “We have all agreed that it is the responsibility of the developing countries to achieve the first seven goals, but [we also] acknowledge that rich countries must support poor countries in order for them to do so…The MDGs are a global compact built around mutual commitments and they demand mutual accountability by all countries.” The enumerated responsibilities of the “rich countries” are to “increase aid, increase aid effectiveness, provide more debt relief and more trade opportunities and put an end to agricultural subsidies that destroy the markets of poor farmers.”
Encouraging and inspiring all, she reported on the large global North-South coalition coming together under the banner, “Make Poverty History.” This global mobilization effort demonstrates that citizens do care and want to put an end to poverty. We have in front of us a unique window of opportunity. The suffering of children in developing countries necessitates immediate action and the children of rich countries can no longer afford to ignore how their counterparts in the South live. The children in rich countries cannot continue to be “illiterate on how their own societies share responsibility” for current world conditions.
Pointing to the dilemma caused by the clash of the competing demands of nation states at the UN, Shashi Tharoor referred to the results of the “prestigious Pew Report” of last summer that found the UN standing had come down in all countries. Those who supported the Iraq war were criticizing the UN for not supporting the war and those who did not support the war were castigating the UN for not being able to prevent it. As a result, a “High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change” has been appointed to examine the major threats and challenges to international peace and security, including those threats arising from economic and social issues. Mr. Tharoor reported that the challenge before this panel, “is nothing less than reviewing the entire architecture of the whole system that we have built up in the last 59 years and next year on the 60th anniversary of this organization, in December, the report of this panel will be fully discussed.”
As he indicated, the need for greater planet-wide peace and security cannot be overly estimated: “It is axiomatic that the MDGs will NOT be met in a world marred by instability and conflict. [The MDGs] are inextricably linked to the need to build international peace and security!”
Quoting from the Millennium Declaration, (http://www.un.org/millennium/summit.htm), Joan Kirby, Chair of the NGO Conference emphasized that in signing the Declaration, the countries of the world recognized that in addition to their responsibility to their individual societies, they also agreed that they have “a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.” They solemnly affirmed that the United Nations is the COMMON HOUSE of the entire human family and they pledged unstinting support for their common, universal aspiration for peace, cooperation and development and their determination to achieve them.
Sister Kirby, a Religious of the Sacred Heart and the NGO Representative to the UN of the Temple of Understanding, ended her remarks by citing a prayer: “For as long as space endures and for as long as living beings remain, may we too abide to relieve the misery of the world.”
Putting in perspective the goal of the United Nations and the present reality, Jacques Attali, President of “PlaNet France” and featured keynote speaker sharply contrasted today’s UN, which functions mainly “as a multilateral organization where nations are competing to get the best for their own interest” and the UN needed to solve today’s global problems. As he emphasized, there is a need to shift from “national priorities to mankind priorities.” He lamented the fact that the world today is sadly lacking in statesmanship and in “worldmanship.” He referred to the national defense budgets as “budgets for the protection of national interest.” He stressed the need for world consciousness and speaking on the last afternoon of the conference, he asserted what had been evident throughout the three-day proceedings: “It is only in a room like this one where we see people interested by issues without borders, without any national, selfish interest; and this makes a dramatic difference in terms of ethics and dreams.”
Mr. Attali called for the creation of a Dow Jones-like index that would daily measure and publicize “a survival index to see if humanity is progressing along the path to its own survival.” And he called for the need to hold people accountable if the MDGs are not being met.
Responding to a question posed by Zin Verjee, Anchor of CNN International, Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) referred to the fact that the 9/11 tragedy caused a change in political consciousness. “We have learned,” he said, “that not only can the rich hurt the poor, but that the poor can hurt the rich,” and a strong national defense cannot make life safe for its citizens. In fact, he stated, “the stronger your defense, the richer your citizens, the more powerful you are, in some ways, the more vulnerable you are and I think these ideas are penetrating into our world, which means with the help of civil society, we will within a short generation understand a genuine sense of global responsibility and [the need for] global action.” He acknowledged, “we are at a moment of moving signposts in the global conversation,” and in a few years, we will talk in different terms about security and development and eventually, we will recognize the need for pro-active development strategy as just something you expect from your tax-payer dollar wherever you live.
This theme of important changes wrought in consciousness by the 9/11 tragedy was further addressed by Kavita Ramdas, President of the Global Fund for Women who referred to the “gift of 9/11”: “We are all in this world together vulnerable. We all suffer terror of all different kinds. The privilege of living in a wealthy country does not necessarily protect you from being exposed.” She referred to the terror experienced by those who watch their child die of starvation; the terror of not being able to make ends meet even though you work so hard from sunrise to sunset; the terror of watching both of your parents die, leaving you with only a legacy of being HIV positive. She declared that the citizens of the world are only secure when for example, “the children of Fallujah are fed and secure and not fearful that cluster bombs can, at any time, fall on their heads.”
Increasingly the concepts of universal ethics and spirituality are embraced and openly articulated at these gatherings. For example, this year, two of the midday workshops referred to the role of spirituality in addressing global problems. One workshop whose theme was, “The Role of Spirituality in Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution” called for the creation of a global day of reconciliation. The presenters of this workshop recognized that violence is a response to a deep wound and the world community must seek alternative ways of addressing wounds, based on forgiveness and love rather than on punishment and violence.
We exist at a pivotal point in the history of humanity and the planet. As many of the NGO conference participants repeated, the problems on our planet are huge, yet so is the opportunity! May we therefore each play our part with stern resolve and with earnest aspiration to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom!
A transcript of the available speeches and the web cast of the conference can be found at: http://www.un.org/dpi/ngosection/57conf.htm