It’s a great pleasure to be here with you today.
As all of you know we are at a key moment for shaping the future of international development.
The Millennium Development Goals have inspired a generation. These unprecedented set of developing world promises have given all of us a clear direction, a path we can all follow.
It is a path we have followed. Over the past fourteen years we have witnessed the largest reduction in poverty in history. The number of people dying from malaria and HIV has plummeted. Polio is on the brink of eradication. Millions more children are in school, paving the way for more gains in the coming years.
I’ve just this morning returned from China, where much of the progress towards the MDGs has been made. There I met people in their 50s and 60s who have witnessed the most extraordinary changes during their adult lives. They’ve watched China go from a country in 1985 where 75% of people lived in poverty to one where that percentage had dropped to 13% by 2010.
They talked from the heart about how development had brought routine access to health, education and transport, transforming the lives of many ordinary Chinese people in just one generation. And I see no reason why we can’t help other parts of the world to achieve similar transformation in just one generation.
So we face a crossroads. The 2015 deadline is fast approaching and we have a genuinely historic opportunity to agree an even more ambitious set of goals and to finish the job the MDGs started.
The United Kingdom has an absolutely central role to play in this.
As confirmed yesterday by the Office for National Statistics, the UK is the first country in the G8 to invest 0.7% of national income on international development. It prompted a BBC Newsnight reporter last night to christen the United Kingdom an “aid superpower”, which probably isn’t far wide of the mark when you think about it.
But what matters is that meeting this long-standing UN target of 0.7 shows that we are fully committed to creating a more stable and prosperous world. It shows that while development is happening constantly, we - the United Kingdom - will not stand aside as millions of people across the world still suffer from the worst symptoms of extreme poverty.
And there’s no doubt to me that it is in our country’s DNA to get out into the world and make an impact. We take global priorities and make them our own as any responsible country should.
The UK Department for International Development is ranked consistently among the most effective and most transparent aid donors in the world. It’s something that I’m very proud of and I hope that you are too. The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee Peer Review – which as you know is the most rigorous international benchmark - has called DFID a model of good practice.
And the results speak for themselves.
Over the past three years, thanks to the work of the United Kingdom, six million children across the developing world have received a primary school education. 20 million people have access to clean water. 22 million children have been immunised against killer diseases.
But our support for the developing world goes much further than that. NIDOS, for one, has been doing incredibly important work on policy coherence, demonstrating that UK support for the world’s poorest people doesn’t begin and end with DFID.
By working with the Department for Business we have a major say in Britain’s trade policy, aligning international trade with what works for Britain and the developing world. Our work with the Department for Energy and Climate Change is helping to protect the world’s poor from the worst impacts that climate change can bring.
And the truth is that these achievements belong to all of us. Scottish civil society, and Scotland as a whole, can be proud of the immense contribution made with, and through, DFID.
It was just 50 miles up the road from here, at the G8 Gleneagles Summit in 2005, where G8 members in the EU committed to reach the 0.7% target.
This would not have happened without the voice of civil society – your voice – ringing in those leaders’ ears. And you have played a uniquely important role in helping us stick to this promise.
Scottish civil society plays a very significant role in the fight against poverty and DFID is proud to support the work of several NIDOS member organisations represented here today.
Working with Edinburgh’s Mercy Corps we are delivering clean water and sanitation to one-and-a-half million people in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the most deprived places on earth.
Alongside the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund we are helping to improve the lives of 6,500 disabled people in South Sudan.
With the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines we are doing important work on delivering animal vaccines across the developing world. This follows DFID’s work helping to make rinderpest only the second disease in history - after smallpox - to be eliminated by mankind. And if you’re not up to speed with rinderpest, it was a cattle disease that for thousands of years caused famine, ruined livelihoods and brought untold suffering. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this achievement.
But that’s not all that Scotland with DFID is achieving.
Across Scotland, DFID, through our Connecting Classrooms and Global Learning programmes, is helping to ensure schoolchildren can learn about life in some of the world’s poorest countries. Our children are Skype-ing and talking with their peers in totally different parts of the world, learning through understanding.
Through the Health Partnerships Scheme DFID is working closely with the University of Edinburgh to improve palliative care in countries across Africa.
And I am delighted to announce today that we will be providing another £10 million to the Health Partnerships Scheme. This will enable health institutions across the UK to join the fight against poverty in the developing world.
And then there’s the UK International Citizen Service, providing young people in Scotland and the rest of the union the chance to volunteer for development projects in Asia and Africa, allowing them to make a direct contribution to the fight against global poverty.
So with all that brilliant work taking place, I want to recognise the commitment of the 600 DFID staff at my department’s joint-headquarters in East Kilbride.
At Abercrombie House, just a few miles from here, we have teams leading DFID activities worldwide, from supporting the UK’s overseas territories to improving governance and tackling corruption.
DFID teams in East Kilbride also led the work on last year’s major Nutrition for Growth summit, which was part of our country’s G8 Presidency. Through this one event Britain secured 4 billion dollars in commitments from donor governments and businesses worldwide, helping 500 million undernourished women and children.
And when disasters hit, like it did in the Philippines last year, staff from Abercrombie House play a role in our country’s response.
This is the kind of positive work that Scotland and Scots are doing through their DFID - through our DFID. Real impact across the globe every day, helping millions of people each year.
Now it’s true that the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund is supporting important work in Asia and Africa, building on Scotland’s great historic links with Malawi, and I pay tribute to that.
But what is undeniable to me – looking at all of the UK’s great work – is that we have a far bigger impact on the lives of the world’s neediest people precisely because we have been united in this work.
As the world’s second biggest aid donor the UK can make truly transformative interventions, as economies of scale enable us to squeeze the maximum value for money out of every penny we spend.
As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and with our own place on the board of the World Bank, the UK can ensure core values shared right across the whole of the UK are reflected at the top of these vital global institutions.
As a United Kingdom, we shape rather than follow the global development agenda.
And there is no better proof of this than our work shaping the post-2015 landscape.
The UN Secretary General recognised the UK’s standing as a world leader in international development when he asked our Prime Minister to co-chair his High Level Panel on the post-2015 development goals last year.
The resulting report said - rightly - that the progress made since the year 2000 means we now have an unprecedented opportunity to end extreme poverty within our lifetimes.
But this is in no sense inevitable. There will still be 900 million people living in extreme poverty in 2015… and these people will be the hardest to reach.
We face an enormous challenge. To meet it, we need a new set of clear, inspiring, ambitious goals that will build on the MDGs and address the issues they left out.
The High Level Panel agreed that in creating this new set of goals we should leave no one behind. I am also personally committed to ensuring we not only have a standalone goal addressing gender equality… but that the empowerment of women is reflected in each and every goal agreed.
The panel also agreed that 2015 represents an unprecedented opportunity to put development on a more sustainable footing. We need to manage the very worst risks of climate change while ensuring a more sustainable use of food, water and energy.
But critically we need goals that tackle the causes as well as the symptoms of poverty.
This means helping to create the conditions economies and societies need to thrive.
Peace, the rule of law, an absence of corruption, the recognition of property rights and institutions that serve all the people, not just a select few.
This is what economists - from Jim Robinson and Daron Acemoglu to Amartya Sen - want.
Most importantly, this is what people across the developing world want and need. They want to be able to register land in their own name so they can have the confidence to invest in it. They want a police force that is impartial and can be relied on to protect their families and property. They want to establish businesses to create the jobs that provide the dignity of work and the financial independence to be able to take their own decisions in their lives and plan for the future.
The UN has now asked over a million people what they want to see in the next set of development goals. Just below education, healthcare and job comes honest and responsive government, and protection against crime and violence.
At the heart of all this is what the Prime Minister calls the Golden Thread of development. This is a thread that weaves together the values and conditions that lead to more stable, prosperous and ultimately successful societies.
The first strand of this thread is peace and security.
Stability is the foundation for development in all countries. A major lesson learned from the MDGs is that development simply isn’t possible without addressing the causes of conflict and fragility.
Time and again we find that conflict and violence correlate directly with the most extreme and intractable poverty.
Creating peaceful and stable states, from South Sudan to Syria, must be a priority for the international community. The violent conflict in these two countries has caused terrible suffering and displacement, setting back development by decades. It is estimated that the Syrian conflict has put back that country’s development by 30 years.
We, for one, have been doing our part, achieving tangible results on the ground. In Nigeria, our Justice for All programme is improving personal security and access to justice, focusing on a more accountable police force.
In just one year the percentage of the public reporting satisfaction with the police response in one Lagos suburb rose from 47% to 63%.
We are also helping to ensure getting justice is not the sole preserve of men. In Malawi, where links with Scotland go back over 150 years, DFID is helping women living in rural areas to gain access to justice, working with traditional community tribunals.
Before this programme began, only a third of tribunals included a female judge. Today virtually every tribunal assisted by DFID has elected women assessors.
DFID remains committed to supporting the people of Malawi, which is why earlier this week we announced funding for the delivery of essential drugs and medicines to 660 health clinics across the country.
The second strand of the Golden Thread is an open economy.
Last year, Afrobarometer published the results of a poll of more than 30,000 people across Africa. They asked one simple question: what is the most important problem that your government should focus on?
And there was one runaway winner: unemployment.
Men and women around the world want the dignity to earn an income, to be independent and to look after themselves and their families. That’s why, in my time at DFID, I have ramped up the focus on economic development.
The UK is helping to dismantle barriers to trade, boost investment and improve the business climate in the world’s poorest countries. UK aid is modernising ports in Kenya and Uganda, upgrading roads from Uganda to Rwanda and reducing start-up costs for businesses in Nigeria.
This work – which we are doing hand in hand with business and governments – will install the fundamental building blocks of sustained and inclusive economic growth.
We know that growth leads to jobs. But countries which are growing can also take responsibility for their own development, ultimately freeing themselves from a reliance on aid. This requires a tax regime, an effective revenue authority, and strong, corruption-free institutions that can invest these revenues in the vital public services that people need, like health and education.
For instance, DFID is now working alongside HM Revenue and Customs to help countries like Somalia introduce financial budgeting systems for the very first time.
The third strand is an open government and an open society.
While many countries are making rapid progress towards the MDGs, some are still lagging behind when it comes to giving people a say, through free and fair elections, government transparency or freedom of expression.
I don’t believe these are optional extras that can be permanently set aside by countries. We’ve seen time and time again that open societies and open economies deliver better outcomes for everyone – especially the poor. Sustainable prosperity spreads where people’s rights and freedoms - the right to vote, to trade, to start a business - are respected and enshrined.
The Challenge ahead
Peace and security… open economies and open societies: they are not only the building blocks of development, they are valuable outcomes in themselves.
Which is why we’ll be pushing for these Golden Thread issues to be included in the post-2015 framework.
I should say that it will not be easy. There are many voices out there who oppose standalone goals on governance and security.
But this is precisely the kind of debate – a debate about the evolving nature of development – that we all need to engage in.
And this also goes for the post-2015 framework as a whole.
To make the new set of goals ambitious and workable, we need everyone – governments, NGOs, businesses and academics – to get out there, make their case, and get people excited about what these targets could deliver for the world and its neediest people.
I believe that it’s a challenge all of us will grip because we know what’s at stake.
The progress of the last 15 years has shown us what can be achieved – and has given us sight and hope of what could be 15 years from now: the ending of extreme poverty by 2030.
United, I know we can do it.