Honourable Minister, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honour and a privilege to participate today in this important dialogue on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji and to have the opportunity to support Fiji and the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation in this extremely important initiative.
Alleviating poverty, hardship, and deprivation- and ensuring that the benefits of progress reach everybody in Fiji- could not be more important. And the challenges involved in realising that vision should not be underestimated.
I think we can all agree that we have a collective responsibility to work to improve the lot of the poorest in society- and part of taking that responsibility seriously is taking the time to understand how the various pieces of the puzzle fit together, so that our efforts achieve the best possible results.
At the UN, our work is guided by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals- signed up to by 193 UN member states, including Fiji, as an overarching global framework for sustainable development.
It is no coincidence that within the SDG framework, ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere is Goal number 1- as it was in the preceding Millennium Development Goal framework.
But that does not mean that the alleviation of poverty can be thought about in isolation, or tackled independently from the other development ambitions. The SDGs framework explicitly recognises the fundamental inter-dependencies between the different Goals. Making progress on the elimination of poverty will require us to make progress in many other areas- from eliminating hunger and malnutrition, to delivering decent work and economic growth.
So, in that spirit, it is heartening to see the range of stakeholders here today willing to spend their valuable time to constructively engage on the challenges of poverty alleviation and work together to make progress.
It is one thing to acknowledge the importance of aligning our efforts and working together, but so often the bigger challenge comes in trying to make this happen in practice. That is why this sort of initiative is so important.
The number of different stakeholders here gives us some indication of the amount of work that is already taking place to help alleviate poverty in Fiji.
Everybody represented here has different strengths, capacities, mandates, and approaches that can be brought to the table. Making the most of all of these will require a coordinated approach where we are able to keep better track of how we are all contributing, and how we can maximise complementarities in our work.
For example, Government can help create an enabling environment to generate productive and sustainable employment and job opportunities for the poor and the marginalized. They can formulate strategies and fiscal policies that stimulate pro-poor growth, reduce poverty, and share benefits with the poorest.
The active engagement of civil society in policy making, especially representing groups that might be under-represented in formal institutions such as women and youth, will make a crucial difference to poverty alleviation efforts. It will ensure that the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized are heard. It ensures that rights are promoted and that the inter-generational knowledge is shared.
The academic and education community have a major role in improving our understanding of and finding better responses to poverty. Science provides the foundation for new and sustainable approaches, solutions and technologies to tackle the challenges of reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. Major achievements in enabling access to clean drinking water, reducing deaths caused by water borne diseases through the world, would not have been possible without the contributions from science.
The private sector has a major role in determining both the pace of growth, and how inclusive it is, and hence how quickly progress translates into improvements for those most left behind.
So, we all have different roles to play, and I would argue that we also have a moral responsibility to help improve the way we share information about our work on poverty alleviation so that we can work together more effectively- and the leadership of the Ministry has to be central to that.
Let me conclude by reiterating that action to leave no one behind is at the heart of sustainable development efforts. The pledge to leave no one behind runs across all 17 SDGs, embedded in goals, targets and indicators that demand disaggregated data, inclusion and equity in social, environmental and economic spheres.
Achieving this will require coordinated and concerted effort. Leaders in all walks of life will need to become agents of change, being willing to challenge and disrupt business as usual, building national consensus on the policies the pledge requires, and finding ways forward.
It is distinct pleasure for me, on behalf of the UN Development System, to be part of this important step towards amplifying our efforts to alleviate poverty and hardship in Fiji, and making sure that the benefits of progress are felt by everybody.
I look forward to the discussions over the next two days, and -crucially- to working together towards our common goals going forward.