New York 24, September 2015

  •          Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network
  •          Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

First of all, I would like to thank President Bollinger, for the honour of this invitation. It is a real pleasure to be back at Columbia. We continue to be inspired by the openness of this institution, and your practical approach to development.

That starts with Jeff Sachs and his team. For as long as I can remember, Jeff’s voice has risen above others, insisting that extreme poverty can be eradicated. Thank you for staying the course.

The Columbia University teams have been following the progress towards MDGs in Rwanda, and in fact contributing to it.

Let me also say that Rwanda is happy to be associated with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. We look forward to actively working with, and supporting the proposed new SDG centre, to be based in Africa.

Poverty is part of the experience for millions of Africans and beyond, who need no reminder of what it feels like to be trapped in its brutal grip.

So when some say MDG efforts fell short. I say: that’s fine, at least something was learned.

Others see numerous cases, where success has been recorded, and debate about who or what deserves credit.

But we cannot overlook the really important fact: there was some success, which means many lives have been improved.

When MDGs were introduced in 1990s Rwanda was coming out of a dark period of our history, getting the debts of the previous governments cleared.

It was a moment at which we were most intensively engaged, in working out how to forge a new national consensus, on the most pressing issues facing us.

These ranged from the particular problems of recovering from Genocide, to the challenges of development policy, that every growing country has to deal with.

The MDGs were timely, in creating a new basis, for the development partnerships necessary to rebuild our country, and create prosperity in the years ahead.

We found that this set of goals linked our national vision for development to a wider global context, and was well aligned with changes Rwandans wanted to see in their lives.

The work of implementing the MDGs, helped to build trust with funding partners, while keeping the locus of responsibility where we believed it had to rest, with ourselves.

Finally, it informed us and our partners, whether or not we were on the right track.

So as we move forward to the new set of post-2015 goals, it is time to ask, what will improve and make development sustainable?

This is a complex question. But let’s simplify the answer, by looking at development as a triangle.

The first point, are solutions, the good ideas and policies, like the ones being brought out, in meetings like this.

The second point, is money. The financing to implement the programs.

To make development sustainable, there is a third point, that is often overlooked: and that is good politics. In other words, the interaction between citizens and their leaders and partners.

Sustainable development is not about what “we”, all of us here, do for them, but about the choices they make each day, over and over.

We are working to provide the ways and the means to improve their lives, but it is also important to take the time to connect with these citizens, because in the end, they are the ones who implement these good ideas.

We can start by recognising the many contributions and quantify that citizens themselves make. These amounts may look small compared to other sources of financing, but it’s a big deal.

Their contributions range from using their own money to buy necessary inputs, to time spent in community meetings, learning about new and better ways of doing things, to absorbing risks now in order to make gains in the future.

These are important measures of the commitment of citizens and communities, without which there would be little development.

In other words, development is what happens when citizens are convinced about the logic and pace of change.

Country systems must help people to understand their problems, and collaborate to find solutions, including serving as a conduit for development partnerships.

For Rwanda, there is nothing casual about the term “lessons learned”. We have been changed by real learning from our experiences and circumstances. And therefore we have had to do things differently, earning us different results.

At the core of our political mobilisation work, are the principles of inclusiveness, taking responsibility, and building consensus.

We have created a decentralised service delivery system and promoted community ownership of local development priorities. Citizens feel  empowered to hold the government accountable.

In Rwanda, state effectiveness is derived from success at forging a common national vision. This has enabled faster and deeper development results. And explains why the results achieved, sometimes far surpass available resources.

The SDGs are the next chapter in global collaboration on development, and hopefully, a new opportunity to move away, from the business as usual mode.

The goals are more ambitious, and some would even say less focused. That is to be expected, given the progress of MDGs, and also the reality that, the most stubborn forms of poverty, may be much harder to eradicate.

What’s key, is that we have a new template, for cooperation and dialogue for the next generation.

For the SDGs to succeed, we need to have a more serious conversation, about the forms of governance and democratic participation, required to get there.

The challenge for all of us, is to close the triangle of sustainable development. The SDGs offer hope, of making the importance, meaning, and most importantly, practice of good politics, more widely understood.

Let’s work to complement the new SDG framework, with a genuine effort, to objectively assess the degree of citizen buy-in and involvement, in decision-making and accountability.

It is up to us, to make the most of this new opportunity.

I thank you.