We hope that the post-2015 agenda prioritises reaching all people, especially the poorest and most marginalized


Diana Skelton, Deputy Director General of ATD Fourth World, was at the High Level Panel meeting in London, to discuss the post 2015 development agenda.

Quality versus statistical quantity

One lesson we can learn from the MDGs [1]. is that percentage based targets can have unintended negative consequences. For example, one target calls for reducing the percentage of people suffering from hunger by half. But this can lead service providers to concentrate only on the quantity of food distributed. We have seen food “from the MDGs” distributed to middle-class families, and counted as a step forward even though it didn’t reach people suffering from hunger.

A second lesson we can learn is that too much focus on statistics can keep us from investing in quality. In Burkina Faso, increasing numbers of girls and boys run away from the countryside and try to survive on the capital’s streets. Many of these children were able to attend school for a few years. However, what they took from their education was that the future lies only in office jobs in cities. Nothing their families and villages have to teach them is valued, so they leave home for the capital. Disrespect for the parents of children in poverty is something we find all around the world, making it very hard for children to learn.

Poverty issues interlinked

A third lesson from the MDGs is that limiting goals and targets to certain aspects of life is also counterproductive. Issues affecting people living in poverty are interlinked. Without work, people cannot afford energy. Without environmental protection, businesses can pollute drinking water. Lack of a legal identity compromises access to education. A lack of decent housing can compromise access to healthcare.

We hope that the post-2015 agenda prioritises reaching all people, especially the poorest and most marginalized. Beginning with those who are the hardest to reach, as the UN Human Rights Council does with its new Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, is more effective and less costly than percentage-based approaches. Striving to reach all people worldwide motivates communities to strengthen solidarity with those in the most difficult circumstances.

To achieve meaningful progress towards these goals we need to see them as part of a comprehensive human-rights framework. Too often, programmes are ill-adapted to people’s needs. Without meaningful participation at every stage of a project’s design and implementation, the needs of the poorest and most marginalized people will not be met. To participate fully, people need to be able to express themselves without fear of reprisals, choose organizations where they can speak freely and work in a context where their words will not be misunderstood, manipulated or held against them. The intentions of the authorities involved need to be clear.

We hope that the post-2015 programme can draw on the experience and intelligence of people living in extreme poverty to innovate new approaches to ending it.

[1] Millennium Development Goals