Humankind has come a long way in the quest for knowledge, science and technology. The global economy has never before witnessed such unprecedented levels of economic growth and technological advancements. The last century, in particular, has transformed the social and economic lives of millions across the globe. Yet, the human society is far from the world free from hunger, illness, poverty and insecurity. The magnitude of such deep-seated concerns is much worse across certain identifiable regions and countries.
At the annual meeting of the world economic forum last year, it was discussed that economic growth is not the only thing that should interest global leaders but we should be looking beyond GDP as a measure of progress. The World needs a strategic shift away from economic growth concerns that are externalizing social and environmental costs and move to address the well-being of the planet as well as of humans. International co-operation and exchange among nations thus emerge as the most important means to tackle these development challenges.
More so because the problems caused by overreliance on economic progress have extended to the international plane that transcends borders in a highly integrated global economy.
The landmark Millennium Declaration paved the path for ever-increasing international cooperation in global development. The current development agenda referred to as Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) has further renewed the motivation for greater national and international efforts to address pressing development concerns and ensure sustainability of our growth achievements. The SDGs provides a comprehensive view of global development priorities and has mandated development practitioners and policymakers across countries to devise policy solutions and mechanisms to achieve faster social and economic progress.
India is no exception and by submitting a Voluntary National Review report on seven goals including poverty, health, hunger and nutrition as well as gender equality at the High-Level Political Forum in July 2017, India has reiterated its commitment to meeting these development goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework is a fairly robust and comprehensive form of development objective which represents India’s aspirations.
While implementing agenda 2030 is important, the nation has to address certain domestic and international challenges as well. Health, nutrition, sanitation is the primary triad for the wellbeing of communities and is central to the effective social and political development of a society. India, however, has been failing on many such fronts while excelling in others. On one hand, India partakes in economic diplomacy with its aid programmes that have the impact across Africa and Asia but on the other, India is home to almost a quarter (190.7 million) of globally undernourished people. Even as India steadily gains ground as a global power, it is yet to complete its own domestic transformation and address some of the fundamental developmental challenges facing the country.
The complex societal makeup and lacking physical and social infrastructure have a gravitating effect on India’s progress toward the SDGs. Only high and sustained levels of investments in health and education can help the nation to meet its growing developmental and security aspirations. India accounts for a huge share of both relative and absolute global burden of diseases and undernutrition. India’s performance and progress is central to the success of the SDGs. Policymakers are well aware of this fact and these issues are accorded high priority in the NITI Aayog Vision Document 2030. However, continued research, evidence and policy discussions are instrumental for effective policymaking.
The SDGs are unique in terms of inter-dependence of goals and development philosophy. While India has a greater understanding of social connectedness, it also needs greater inter-sectoral connections in governance and policymaking.
India’s development challenges multiply manifold because of huge population and scalability issues. However, India has also displayed unique policy skills in scaling up of interventions and is a leader in developing policy solutions in cost-effective terms. Mr Yuri Afanasiev, the UN Resident Coordinator for India elaborated how goals and targets in Agenda 2030 are interdependent and will be realized only with interconnected efforts at all the levels of governance. He was delivering the welcome address at the ORF-Gates Foundation conference on “Accelerating Growth and Development in the SDG Era” organised in Delhi on August 30.
On the participation and representation of developing countries like India in the development of Agenda 2030, Afanasiev alluded to the success story of JAM trinity – an abbreviation for Jan Dhan Yojana, Aadhaar and Mobile penetration. JAM has been scaled up to reach a billion people and can act as the foundation for access and delivery of social and economic services to a billion-plus population.
Sustaining economic growth is of high priority to achieve these major development goals. The growth outlook is very positive for India because of its dynamic business environment and functioning institutions that ensure efficient and long-lasting development solutions. India’s emergence as a superpower with increasing influence on global governance and new world order can further help in greater international cooperation and policy efforts toward sustainable development. The creative and innovative skills of Indians – sometimes termed as jugaad – have the potential to develop solutions that are quicker, bigger, scalable and cost-effective.
The human capital agenda is instrumental in achieving a prosperous and inclusive future including the SDGs. India should work for accelerated human development.
The diverse social and economic framework of India also offers greater opportunities for improved performance. India ranks a 116th of 157 countries on the SDG Index and given its population share India has an uphill task ahead to achieve quick improvements in education, employment and health. In fact, child health and nutrition is of fundamental concern because of its long-term impact on individual well-being and the economy.
India has the ability to identify developmental concerns and has the capacity to arrive at policy solutions. The case of successful HIV/AIDS prevention programme through vast community engagement and effective surveillance is an important example of India’s organizational ability and programme management. Policymaking in India is effective because it builds on existing strength and works around the weakness of various institutions and models. In fact, management and administration of national and state-level AIDS Control Society played a major role. Similarly, India formed major national and international partnerships with developmental agencies for programme support, technical inputs and capacity building.
These successful stories defy problems linked to scalability by channelling the least cost-innovative methods with an involvement of government to co-produce sustainable development. India is an example where institutions work well, democratic ideology prevails and growth is not dependent on the industrial economy. Therefore, India should mobilise its strengths to conceptualize its participation in the fourth industrial revolution. The cornerstone of a democratic setup is to work out solutions to problems with a certain degree of sustainability and efficiency. Thus, instead of just emulating established successful models, India needs to build on innovative and creative ‘India model’ that harnesses the skills at the national, state and local levels.
India should expand its focus beyond conventional public health strategies and devise alternatives that based on community engagement, accountability and rights. Social and economic inclusion are also necessary to achieve a greater impact of various technical public health solutions. With advances in science and technology, policymakers and programme managers can make use of big data, geospatial analysis, machine learning etc to develop systematic planning for targeting and delivery of various services. Communication and outreach have also improved tremendously and should be used effectively in programme design.
Eradication of TB is an area where direct benefits of such technological coordination and community engagement can make the immediate impact. The Government of India has in fact allocated an increased share of budget towards TB eradication. However, a constant search for the effective model of health care delivery is critical as sometimes different solutions are required for different problems.
Overall, it is important that India continues its focus on development innovations and programme implementation based on dynamic partnerships between government, the private sector, civil society and communities. Further, promotion of citizen engagement, accountability, voice and rights can further accelerate the approach toward the SDGs. Market failure in the delivery of social goods and services such as health and education is a problem everywhere. But collaborations with the private sector as a source of ideas, as a source of delivery expertise, as a source of finance as well as a source of finance can boost the human capital agenda underlying the SDGs.
This commentary originally appeared in NDTV.