Minding the Gap: Lessons from the Oxford Forum for International Development
Posted on: 19 May 2016
This year’s Oxford Forum for International Development was centered around understanding the gap between the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event, which took place on 5th March, was full of lively talks, discussions, questions, and conversations on topics including governance, education and global health.
Keynote speakers included Rachel Glennerster from the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT, Girish Menon from Action Aid UK and Phil Vernon from International Alert. The full list of expert speakers can be found here. A few key takeaways from their sessions included:
– Reflections as to why we failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals
– The Sustainable Development Goals as benchmarks for countries to work towards
– Governments should be held more accountable for following through with the SDGs
– Convincing individuals that investment today will pay off later can be a struggle
– The cost of the goals presents challenges, but investment in local economies may be the best way to overcome them
– Support of women and children is a continued focus
The content was dynamic and engaging because it was clearly articulated and highly relevant to development concerns today. It was powerful to hear from so many speakers who are actively involved in development. You can watch recordings of selected sessions here.
Of particular interest to me was the opportunity to take part in the education session. The discussion on the role of teachers was very captivating. The three presenters – Andrew Cunningham, Dr. Angeline Barrett, and Dr. James Stanfield – spent a significant amount of their time focusing on private vs. public schools and the role of teachers in achieving the SDGs. There was heated discussion around the benefits of low-income private schools, which spurred debate about the equity of such a plan. There was strong consensus amongst the group that, in order to reach the SDGs, the development of teachers should be emphasised more than it has been previously.
After watching this exchange, I recognised that one of the primary benefits of these conferences is to help participants, myself included, learn to engage in a professional way on matters that are very important and often multifaceted. The participants were able to hear professionals debate different perspectives and yet still be headed towards the same goals. That is why OxFiD and other events run across the Student Hubs network are so powerful. They are a platform to inspire further action.
Later in the day, I spent time with participants, asking their thoughts and opinions about what they heard. One participant emphasised her desire to complete a project involving gender inequality this summer. Another shared her plan for working on a programme supporting local refugees. It was inspiring to hear from engaged and interested individuals who felt energized to do more. It was also great to see speakers willingly spending time with individual students, answering additional questions, networking and giving advice.
Watching the students participate in the conference was the most exciting part of the day. The questions they asked were honest and fearless. One particular exchange between a student and a presenter on social entrepreneurship comes to mind. A student raised their hand and stopped the presenter to ask about the problems with capitalism. The presenter had to take a moment and think before responding to the student’s concerns, suggesting that capitalism will become redefined in the next few years. In those few moments when the room was silent, I could sense that we were creating new understandings and ideas about the world.
For the organising committee of the Oxford Forum for International Development, it was the small moments that we came to love. Our conference was not built for a few big name speakers; rather, success came from watching students share of ideas, network, discuss and ultimately develop a better understanding of global social issues. This vision of action oriented activity is something the Student Hubs network is committed to doing.