Thirteen years ago, at the September 2000 United Nations Millennium Summit, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders pledged to work together over the next 15 years to cut hunger and poverty in half, achieve universal primary education, eliminate gender inequalities, and protect the environment. Out of that meeting came eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that make up the world's biggest effort ever to combat poverty. Today, fewer than 1,000 days remain before these goals expire. The world has made tremendous progress because of the goals, from reducing maternal and child deaths to ensuring more children than ever before are enrolled in school. But serious work remains, and the global development community's focus must now shift to what happens after the current goals expire. The major question is: Who will write the next chapter of global development? One of the clearest lessons to be learned from the current goals is the value of actually listening to women from developing countries. These women have so much to contribute to the conversation, but their voices are all too often unheard, forgotten, or flat-out ignored. Creating meaningful opportunities for civil society groups to participate in transparent political processes is the first step toward true global buy-in of future development goals. For too long, efforts to reduce poverty have been decided only by those with means and power. I've heard countless times from women and men in marginalized communities around the world that there should be "nothing about us without us." Goals about women should be shaped by women. This may seem like a no-brainer to some, but it's taken more than 50 years of official U.S. development assistance to arrive at a place where such an approach is often promoted. On education especially, women from developing countries are leading the charge, and - with the help of groups like Women Thrive - beginning to have their ideas heard by world leaders and important stakeholders. After meeting with UN leaders earlier this year, Urvashi Sahni, an education activist in India, said this: "Completion [of school] is of the essence for girls! Learning outcomes too. Girls perform well if they are allowed to stay in school. There is the matter of ensuring access to those left out and that should continue to inform the agenda!" Another advocate, Kenya's Sara Ruto, is pushing the message to African leaders and beyond: "We must focus on learning outcomes and embrace those at risk of being left behind. The African Union reiterated a concern that reverberates throughout the continent; decisions that touch on Africa are sometimes made in a non-consultative manner... we need to take charge and influence what goes on around us; instill the Africa focus in the global agenda." Civil society partners from developing countries tell me regularly that education goals should include such things as:
- Literacy, numeracy, and cognitive skills supporting self-expression;
- Citizenship education for democracy and peace;
- Early childhood education to prepare children for primary school; and
- Environmental knowledge for responsible decision-making about resource use and allocation.
The vast majority of our partners believe that learning should be about more than reading and math skills. They tell me that education should drive metrics rather than what is measurable driving education. Access to education, learning outcomes, and gender equity are all linked, and any global education goal should reflect all three legs of the stool. The partners around the world that I get to work with every day are smart. Their voices are powerful. And they know what their own communities want and need to thrive. So as the global community closes the chapter on the old Millennium Development Goals and writes a new chapter for the future, where will women be? Along with many fantastic colleagues, I'm doing everything I can to make sure decision makers are listening and that women (and men!) in developing countries can truly write their own future. This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction around the United Nations General Assembly's 68th session and its general debate on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), "Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage" (September 24-October 2, 2013). The session will feature world leaders discussing progress made on the MDGs and what should replace them when they expire in 2015. To read all the posts in the series, click here; to follow the conversation on Twitter, find the hashtag #No1Behind. For more information about InterAction, click here.