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10 Dec, 2014

Interview with Amina J. Mohammed, U.N. Chief’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning

United Nations, (UN News Centre), 4 December 2014 – Amina J. Mohammed has served since June 2012 as the Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning. The Nigerian national brings to the position more than 30 years of experience as a development practitioner in the public and private sectors, as well as civil society.

Among her previous posts, Ms. Mohammed was Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN-backed effort to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, promote education, especially for girls, fight disease and protect the environment, all by 2015.

Next September, world leaders are expected to agree on new agenda for the next 15 years that tackles the unfinished business of the MDGs. The “post-2015 development agenda”, with 17 proposed sustainable development goals, is expected to be centred on people and the planet, underpinned by human rights and supported by global partnerships and a universal agreement on tackling climate change.

Ms. Mohammed spoke with the UN News Centre ahead of the release of the Secretary-General’s synthesis report – The Road to Dignity by 2030 – which will guide Member States in their negotiations leading up to next year’s UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development, which will adopt the post-2015 development agenda.


Amina J. Mohammed, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

UN News Centre: Can you briefly explain what the Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report is and how it came about?

Amina J. Mohammed: The report has come about, where we started with deliberations of Member States coming out of Rio [2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development], the open working group was in place, the financing for development experts group was also in place, and Member States brought up a resolution that asked for the Secretary-General to put together a synthesis report that would bring together all these strands in a way that would inform the intergovernmental negotiations when they begin in 2015.

UN News Centre: What will the report contain?

Amina J. Mohammed: The report brings together, first of all, a narrative that really does set the scene for the world that we’re in today. It looks at all the elements that we have learned from in the MDGs, the gaps that there are, what we need for a transformative agenda, and how Rio has come about. So it sets the scene for that. It then responds to that scene with a framework that has a plan for us to develop the new set of goals.

[The report] also then looks at the means of implementation to resource that agenda, the different options that you would have for it. And it ends with an accountability framework – an accountability framework that looks at a shared responsibility to deliver on this agenda. How do we rise to that occasion having set a new and ambitious transformative universal agenda? How do we then respond to that?

UN News Centre: You’ve said that we’ve got to do things differently when it comes to the sustainable development goals. What do you mean by that?

Amina J. Mohammed: Well it’s such a bigger agenda. We have learned from the MDGs that we did succeed in doing many things. We certainly took people out of poverty. We attended to trying to save many women’s lives in delivering. And we looked at the agenda for children and children’s lives were bettered; many got routine immunization; and certainly more survived after childbirth.

But what we did learn was that this way of addressing the huge, complex challenges that we have was not sustainable. And so the sustainable development agenda really looks at a broader and deeper response to the challenges that we have. And it takes together the economic, the social and the environmental dimensions that we have.

I think that’s important because we’re talking about a universal agenda where we’re going to leave no one behind. It’s not doing things by halves or by three-quarters, it’s about everyone mattering. And it is very much about our economies growing, and we’ve seen them grow with people. We know the challenges of climate change… and really responding to that. How do we protect our ecosystems and ensure that the planet is in a state where we can all live in harmony?

So that means we need a whole load more approaches to respond to with this. We certainly need stronger institutions to respond to that. And it is about a global partnership that is very much different than we’ve had before. It’s not the usual development paradigm where we’ve been [only] North and South. It is very much about integration, it’s about everyone and it is about leadership that will carry that forward.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) swears in Amina J. Mohammed. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

UN News Centre: The post-2015 process has tried to be open and transparent like never before. What do most people want and how do you ensure that everyone’s voices are heard?

Amina J. Mohammed: I think that since we embarked on this journey coming out of Rio, Member States have actually provided an unprecedented process where we have brought voices in into the negotiations, into the discussions that have formed and shaped the open working group and its outcome with the 17 goals and many targets.

But it has also been one that’s given us the opportunity to hear voices from the country level, around the world, the different regions, with various platforms. We also had the platform where young people were able to engage with the My World Survey that asked them about the world that they wanted and what their priorities were.

It also involved many other platforms that catalysed around this whole process – from academia to civil society…business… parliamentarians – [and] got so much more involved and came into this space. I think that this has been for us an enrichment of the discussion. But it’s also given ownership and it’s given a sense of we know what we need to do, and the how of it is so much closer now because we’re bringing New York closer to the needs of those at the local level.

UN News Centre: What is the biggest take-away from this report?

Amina J. Mohammed: I think the biggest take-away from this report is probably the hope and the opportunity that we have ahead of us, and this is a generation that can do what we need to do to achieve many of the challenges that we see ahead of us. So if there is anything that we’re taking away from this report it is that by 2030 we can end poverty, we can transform lives and we can find ways to protect the planet while doing that.

UN News Centre: And what are the next steps?

Amina J. Mohammed: The next steps will be, we hope, that we are able to present this to the Member States in a way that helps them refine the intergovernmental process, bring more clarity, maintain the ambition and momentum and to begin to close the gap more. What we do want to see is that by the time we come to September, October next year and these goals and the framework is approved, the transition to the new set of goals will be one that takes the unfinished business of the MDGs to greater heights and broadens it… that we can hit the ground running, that we can build on the data revolution that we’ve talked about and see that as a tool that is already in place with a decent set of indicators to help us begin to do that. That the UN itself, as it sets this agenda, is equipped with the necessary skills and tools that it needs to facilitate many developing countries that won’t have the capacities to engage in such a complex momentum.

UN News Centre: Is there a particular development issue that you feel strongly about?

Amina J. Mohammed: I think the biggest challenge I feel very strongly about is that when we have put all this in place, will we have the leadership. And once we have the leadership… the capacity, the human capacity in robust institutions to deliver on it. Where is all that going to come from? How are we really going to help partnerships become more cohesive and work together, pulling in the same direction to achieve what basically we’re all about, and that’s finding a place for our humanity again… reclaiming the values that I think that we’ve lost along the way where we have a world that is full of challenges and conflict and every day of the week there’s not much good news.

It’s very complex. I come out of a country where, at least for years, we’ve seen that against all odds, we were able to do good things, with a good plan, with good intentions, with leadership that backed its players to try to do what we did with the MDGs and then spending our debt relief and making a difference in people’s lives. This is so much bigger and it really does need a global partnership to do it. So while we have things that need to be done at the country level, we also need our partners at the global level to really get behind this.

And that’s going to require quite a lot of courage, because to say you don’t want to leave anyone behind is to look to see who is the most vulnerable and smallest member of the family and what is it that we’re going to have to do to ensure that they’re not left behind, because that will be the litmus test and success of what we do.

UN News Centre: You’ve worked on development issues in various capacities. What do you think is the biggest obstacle to ending poverty?

Amina J. Mohammed: I think for us it’s probably addressing inequalities… the fact that we still have the deepening of inequalities around the world within countries, across borders, is of great concern. And that really needs to be addressed with good policies, policies again that leadership can take, that plans can be implemented with, that investments are targeted properly.

And I think many of the inequalities that we see – access to whatever it is, whether it is income or health or schools, services – all of those will depend really on the quality of the capacities we have and the institutions that are available to us. And I think that’s going to be a big challenge and that’s something that we have to start working on from now if we’re to embrace this much bigger agenda.

UN News Centre: As an African woman, in which areas do you think the continent has made the most progress and where does it need to do more?

Amina J. Mohammed: I think it’s made an enormous progress in its economies, in terms of really trying to turn them around. We’ve seen growth across the board… we’ve also seen a new sense of urgency to take the helm of affairs and to talk about transformation, and not to talk about ad hoc success in terms of development. And I think that that’s a positive sign. It’s about Africa trying to rise and trying to take its own direction, its own future, its own destiny in its hands.

And we’ve seen some women at the helm of affairs that have helped us to do this. And certainly for the continent to take up a common position on Africa that has really informed the debate here on the post-2015 development agenda, that was in the hands and the leadership of a woman – Dr. [Nkosazana Dlamini] Zuma, the AU Chairperson, has really brought along leaders in Africa to say what we want to look at is, yes 15 years and how we engaged with the global agenda, but we want to go further. What’s the next 50 years about for us, and how are we going to engage with that. So I think we can see leadership. We can see Africa trying to take its own future, its destiny, in its own hands.

But it leaves so much more for us to do. I think if we want to see real change, then the scale at which we have to apply the things that we’re doing in a much more integrated way will be mammoth. We need to see many more women in leadership roles. But we also need to see that, when we look at most of the statistics and the data that we have, women are half of the population everywhere. And to say that the human resource – and we believe it – is really the opportunity and potential of nations. Not to invest in half of that potential, of course we will never achieve the ambitions that we have and that we need. So I think that’s going to be important.

I think it’s going to be important for us to have a watchword that says we will not exclude anyone from this, that everyone has a role to play and what we have to do is define that properly and give people their strengths, so that as we come together in a team, our diversities in Africa, within countries, are our strengths and not our weaknesses.