There are many things to note of 2012 in the global development arena among different actors, but perhaps none more so than the Earth Summit - Rio+20 and the International AIDS Conference - AIDS2012. Both by their shear size and participation have evoked interest from many parts of the world. The size also means that much has been expected from the two gatherings by virtue of their "perceived" and "marketed" significance and the amount of money spent. But has there been value and can we expect sustained actions as a result from these two gatherings?
The Earth Summit - Rio+20
Perhaps one of the most anticipated global gathering of its time, Rio+20 was to be a landmark conference that was to take place at the backdrop of famous and largely successful summit that took place at the same location 20 years back. But during and at the close of the summit, many global development actors, opinion makers, leaders and civil society organizations expressed considerable dismay on the proceedings and the fact that a clear way forward was lacking added further reservation.
This though depends on who you speak to. Government representatives will tell you there was success. They were able to deliver on key policy interest areas. For many, the reservations they had on text and particular aspects of the outcome document were addressed, in most cases at the cost of the result planet earth needed from the gathering. Inter governmental agencies will spoke the same language - they were able to leverage the political connections and presence to advance their agenda. Civil Society organizations will tell you there was failure all around - that they tried to push for specific action and language in the outcome document, but because they largely lacked in political leverage and the ability to make decisions on what goes into the outcome document, the real policy statements for climate action the world needs never made it into the outcome document.
So what was the point then? Millions spent in getting participants to expensive Rio de Janerio, thousands of man hours spent on deliberations, logistics and much more - will the resulting actions have more value than if the same investment was placed on tangible actions on the ground? What makes sense is if we actually meet when we know there are conclusions we can reach, amicably. If we are not at that stage, then perhaps we should explore other inexpensive ways to meet and discuss. Technology today has a rich array of options if anyone bothers to explore. Maybe Rio+20 should have been held online or something. That would have made a lot of sense, at least in terms of what the outcome was. Or perhaps an even smaller group of negotiators should have met - less expensive and more expendable in that respect.
The 2012 edition of the International AIDS Conference holding in Washington DC is no exception either. 22,000 participants strong, it is a huge international gathering. Some high caliber leaders from different parts of the world were also in attendance, conceivably to lend some legitimacy to the congregation or particular messages, but overall a strong political backing for the meeting. But again, what if anything was the value of the meeting measured by the number of participants, financials, results and sustainability? There is going to be another one in 2 years - would the follow-up actions to this gatherings have paid off by then?
The number of activities that took place at the AIDS2012 will be announced in time. Workshops, meetings, community events, rallies, abstract presentations and much more. One would argue that such a gathering is needed in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. Stakeholders must have an opportunity to congregate, take stock of progress, deliberate on key challenges and explore opportunities for further and new action among other reasons.
Others might contend that the frequency of the gathering should perhaps be changed - when argued against other international gatherings in other sectors - e.g. sports, you wonder why they do not happen that often. The answer is perhaps that it does not make financial sense.
What has actually taken place - sharing of new developments, improvements and findings in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, negotiations, skills building, networking - could also be done in a less expensive manner. The press conferences held, the workshops had, the side events held could all utilize a less expensive platforms. The entire gathering can also attempt to be financially sound. Collectively, the 22 thousand participants are spending more than over 6 million dollars to attend the event, at an average of 3 thousand per participant. These are estimates, but in real terms, the total figure can go higher than this.
We think the conference mentality is very much overrated, lacking in practicality and performing a capitalistic function more than a development one. Maybe the economic significance of these gathering makes them legitimate, but from results, value and sustainability perspectives, we think there should be a rethink in how we address global problems through such gatherings.
If we can not make sure there is significant value added by the financial and human resource investment we are making in a gathering, able to be measured at different levels; if we can not make sure that there is commitment to implement results at the relevant levels through policy and planned development programmes, then we would be in essence wasting time. Even though as a result of the gathering there may be an eventual trend offsetting action on the ground in favor of the results of the gathering, we can not make such resource commitments for participating in such gatherings based on eventualities.
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