My experience of representing the country

I’m sick and down with fever, which gives me the perfect excuse to write, which I am otherwise forced to procrastinate owing to work load, Netflix, and quality time with my wife. The first topic that came to my mind was the recent opportunity I got to represent India at an international platform- The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York last month. In addition to putting down on what happened there, I also hope to let my young friends know about the opportunities that could come one’s way should he or she choose to work in the development sector. For a country obsessed with engineering, medical, and commerce education, there is a slight chance that this could offer a different perspective.

What was the event? It was the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2017 (HLPF 2017) convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN headquarters, New York, from 10th to 20th July 2017. The ministerial meeting of the Forum involving the representatives of the member states was held from 17th to 19th July. The HLPF is the annual Forum where member states gather and review the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, what are SDGs?– They are a set of 17 goals including eliminating poverty in all its forms everywhere, ending hunger, fostering innovation, protecting our planet from climate change etc. with definite targets and nationally and sub-nationally determined indicators, to be achieved by 2030. This was the second edition of the HLPF to review the progress on SDGs, the first one happened last year. At HLPF 2017, 44 countries, including India, presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) on the progress they have achieved on SDGs.

How did I get to represent India? NITI Aayog is the nodal agency responsible to drive SDG implementation in India. It invited Andhra Pradesh and Assam to participate in HLPF 2017. Why these two states? They have put in significant efforts and achieved commendable success in designing a framework to align their development agenda with the SDGs and put in place a reporting and monitoring system. From Andhra Pradesh, the government organization I work with- Vision Management Unit under the Planning Department, handle all SDG-related work. I happen to be working specifically on SDGs and therefore was nominated to join the Indian delegation representing the Government of Andhra Pradesh in the ministerial meeting of the HLPF from 17th to 20th July.

Side Event conducted by India: While the member states presented their VNRs from 17th to 19th July, parallel events were conducted, organized by member states, organizations, associations etc. India conducted a Side Event on 17th July. Ambassador Syed Akbarudbin (Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations), Dr Arvind Panagariya (Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog and head of the Indian delegation to the HLPF 2017), Dr TCA Anant (Chief Statistician of India), Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri (former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations), and Prof Jagdish Bhagwati (University Professor of Economics and Law, Columbia University) were on the panel. Mr Anupam Kher spoke as civil society representative, and I represented the Government of Andhra Pradesh and presented its work. The panellists spoke about India’s achievement in the recent years in the areas of economic growth, infrastructure, financial inclusion, and Aadhaar enrolment, to a gathering of about 80 representatives from governments, media, Civil Society Organisations, the private sector, and academia. They unanimously observed that the world can achieve SDGs only if India meets its SDG targets. My presentation focused on the following:

  • SDG-aligned development framework designed and adopted by the State Government
  • Monitoring and review of progress towards achieving SDGs
  • Global and national benchmarking
  • SDG-aligned development strategy consisting of saturation approach, assurances, awareness creation, and E-Governance and economic development
Side Event conducted by India
Presenting Andhra Pradesh’s SDG efforts at India’s Side Event
Andhra Pradesh’s CORE Dashboard presented at India’s Side Event

VNR presentation by India: On 19th July, India, represented by Dr Arvind Panagariya, presented its VNR to the HLPF 2017. Dr Panagariya, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, Dr TCA Anant, Mr Ashok Jain (Advisor- Rural Development, NITI Aayog), Ms Urvashi Prasad (Public Policy specialist, NITI Aayog), Mr Tanmaya Lal (Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations), and I were present on the dais. The presentation consisted of a 3 minute-video highlighting India’s recent achievements and PowerPoint presentation by Dr Panagariya on India’s progress on the 7 Goals under focus at the Forum.

Indian delegation on the dais for the VNR presentation
Dr Arvind Panagariya presenting India’s VNR
The dais and delegates from member states

The initiatives pursued and progress achieved by India and Andhra Pradesh were well-appreciated at the Forum. The CORE Dashboard, a key real-time governance initiative of the State Government attracted a lot of positive attention. It’s true that there’s a long way to go to achieve the SDGs, but one can safely say that we have had a decent start. For Andhra Pradesh, the current government schemes and programmes have been mapped goal-wise with SDGs. The Real-time Outcome Monitoring System (ROMS) has been created which captures and displays progress on each goal.

SDGs is not an independent or isolated framework, it covers a lot of areas which come under the mandate of government. This calls for the states to align their development agenda with SDGs to ensure that resources are allocated properly and priorities are identified correctly. Goal-wise strategies and action plans should be devised, and progress or lack of it must be monitored periodically. For the latter to happen, state governments must collect and record the data required to judge the progress in achieving SDGs, a lot of which is absent in the current statistical systems of the government. For instance, proportion of time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, by sex, age, and location; and level of water stress are indicators recommended by the UN to track the progress in achieving SDGs 5 and 6 respectively, but to the best of my knowledge are not part of any government data base.

What did I gain from attending the HLPF? First things first- rubbing shoulders and taking selfies with the big guys (read Dr Panagariya, Ambassador Akbaruddin, Prof Bhagwati, Dr Sabina Alkire, Prof Martin Ravallion …): value add to my social media profiles and photo gallery! On a more serious note, meeting and talking with the kind of people whom otherwise you’re highly unlikely to meet given your designation and pay grade ranks at the top. This has 3 benefits: (1) You get to do the elevator pitch about your work, they might get impressed (2) Opportunity to exchange business cards (3) Avenues for collaboration- some people you meet might want to work with you and vice versa. These three must result in further communication and building a professional relationship. These are important stuff because networking and building contacts are very crucial in the development sector, which is pretty small in terms of the number of people working with reputed organisations. Apart from contacts, getting new ideas and building self-confidence are the other perks. All these can lead to doing better work.

Finally, a word to youngsters. The development sector offers a lot of opportunities and needs fresh ideas. Get a suitable degree- public policy, development studies, rural development, economics, and rural management are some; and pick a field you like- it could be Corporate Social Responsibility, consulting, teaching, research, or field work. Starting salaries may not be that great but with commitment, patience, and willingness to set the bar always higher, growth in terms of remuneration and designation is certain. My remuneration today after two years of work with the government is at par with some of my friends who have been working in the software service sector for the past 5-6 years. About opportunities- you could get to work with governments at the state or central level, become part of real-time policy making, work with NITI Aayog, represent the country, who knows. One word of caution- I know many friends and colleagues who want to see the result of their work, in a very tangible manner, in a few months. I’m afraid this may not be possible. For instance, if I’ve researched and identified five key areas where the government is not performing well and must put in extra focus and attention, it could take the departments months or even years to accept that, draft action plans, implement them, and produce results. Or if I’ve identified 20 legislations which are no longer relevant, it could take years for the government to repeal them, owing to due process. Personally, I believe in doing my bit, with the hope that it could produce a positive impact in the near future.

Feel free to contact me via email for the PowerPoint slides I presented during the Side Event and the report I drafted on Andhra Pradesh’s participation.

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