UN Vows to Make Voices of Poorest Heard at G20 Summit

Amid news reports headlining the summit of a group of 20 of "the world's most powerful economies" in Toronto, Canada, some are wondering: What about the weaker ones? Others are asking if the G20's agenda, with its focus on financial systems and mechanisms, may not reflect the concerns of other nations, many of them much poorer that the group's members. And in that context, questions have been raised about the role at the G20 forum of what is known as the world's universal organization, the United Nations -- or the G192, to coin a new G-anchored acronym.

Will the UN's voice be heard at the summit? Will its Secretary-General play an active part? Is he bringing any substantive issues to the table? And, to reflect a skeptic's perspective, is it worth it?

A short answer to all of these questions is yes. First of all, under any circumstances, the G20 is a very important group on the international scene; these days, as the world is trying to chart a path out of crises, those powerful economies are central to the process. Looking back, we can recall that the joint action by the group in Washington, London and Pittsburgh helped to forestall a global depression. Toronto, on the other hand, can be seen as a key venue to devise ways of solidifying a still fragile economic recovery.

But as the leaders of 20 leading economies ponder how best to approach the mammoth task of fixing the global economic system, it's vital that they take into account the impact of their decisions on various players outside the group. In formulating solutions, they should not overlook the recovery potential represented by a vast part of the world that remains poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable. They should also look at the strategies that -- though not necessarily fiscal in nature -- can spur growth in powerful and weak countries alike.

Even an apparently positive story of growth, however, can have its dark side. For example, a UN report released earlier this week showed that if one were to examine the situation solely in terms of economic growth, a number of developing countries seem to have demonstrated remarkable resilience. But the report, aptly titled Voices of the Vulnerable, also looked at the situation from another angle -- how the economic recovery appears from the trenches of the poorest populations around the world. As it turned out, beneath the veneer of macroeconomic indicators, there was the day-to-day reality of disproportionate suffering by the vulnerable at the household level.

In other words, while much of the recovery has been coming from the dynamism of developing countries, their citizens have been paying an unequally hefty price for helping to pull through crises. The conclusion: as the global community is debating financial and economic reform, it must ensure that these populations are not left by the wayside. A crucial point here is that this approach would benefit all nations - developed and developing -- since economic dynamism in today's world is driven to a large degree by emerging economies.

"By focusing on the needs of the most vulnerable, we lay the foundation for a more sustainable and prosperous tomorrow," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted at this week's press conference in New York, echoing a key theme of his open letter to the G20 summit. Asked at the press conference to elaborate on the messages he was taking with him to Toronto, he said he would also stress the vital importance of continued commitment to the task of meeting the UN's Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, a set of time-bound targets aimed at combating such global ills as poverty, hunger and disease. That commitment, he said, should be shown by the developed and developing countries alike since by investing in the MDGs, we invest in global economic growth.

And during his recent trips to Africa, he saw very concrete examples of how such commitment translates into tangible gains. While in Malawi, for instance, he visited the Millennium Village at Mwandama -- the type of project that showcases the impact of a smart, targeted development policy. In remarks captured on video, the Secretary-General told the Malawi villagers that he wanted "to take your success story to the world."

He will be doing just that at the G20 meetings in Toronto to which he had been invited as a full participant. The idea is to ensure that the voices of the world's vulnerable are heard loud and clear at the table of "the most powerful" as all groups, be it G20 or G192, work jointly to devise solutions for the benefit of all.