Which countries can broker a deal on the post-2015 development agenda?

by | Dec 17, 2014

When the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was announced, Alex Evans laid out a useful typology of the five kinds of people you find on high level panels. They were:

  1. Visionaries: Those who already know the overall message they want a panel to send and push the process towards that message (whether others buy in or not).
  2. Experts and Problem-solvers: Those who are capable of engaging on almost any issue, even if they don’t want to steer the overall storyline. They can be incredibly useful in brokering deals, challenging lazy thinking, and generally steering the process towards a successful conclusion.
  3. Single-issue evangelists: Those who care about one thing in this agenda, and one thing only.
  4. Blockers: Those who are more focused on their government’s redlines than on what they can bring to the table or what kind of overall story or deal can be crafted.
  5. Dead wood: Those who can’t be bothered to engage.

It strikes me that the typology is equally relevant to categorizing the potential role of UN member states in forging an agreement on the post-2015 development agenda and financing for development. While many activists are interested in identifying influencers and potential spoilers, I am more intrigued by the role that problem-solving nations could play. Who are the nations willing to challenge conventional wisdom, to bring evidence to bear, to do the diplomatic legwork required to understand member state positions and propose ways forward?

With so many different member states involved in the process, the easy thing to do will be to blame others. Why bother asking what you can do for the world when you can just ask what the world can do for you? This is the kind of negotiation tactic that leads to lowest common denominator outcomes, something seen all too often in multilateral processes. An ambitious agreement is one that stretches every party enough beyond their comfort zone to change business as usual, but not so much as to prevent their commitment. If we hope to reach an ambitious agenda and an implementation plan to deliver it, problem solvers will be needed.

Which countries are the problem solvers? Problem solvers would need to be countries not already tied to their own vision or redlines, so that they can play a role in bringing others around; countries that care about the broader agenda, rather than one single issue; and countries that are dedicated enough to producing a successful outcome to be willing to put some hard work into raising awareness at the highest political levels, understanding the views and concerns of other member states, and conceptualizing and proposing compromises that take these views into account without sacrificing ambition.

Some countries which may fit the bill include: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Germany, Liberia, Benin, Pakistan; and possibly Indonesia. This is not a comprehensive list – which other countries are potential problem-solvers?


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    Molly Elgin-Cossart is currently Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Non-resident Fellow at the New York University Center on International Cooperation. She was previously Chief of Staff to the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

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