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Leaving no-one behind – marathon or sprint?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Girls & Women, Mozambique, Other

The last week of September was a momentous week for many working in development – the end of the Millennium Development Goals and the launch of a new set of Global Goals that will shape policy, programming and reporting for the foreseeable future.

In this same week I moved to Mozambique to take up a new post, seconded into the Ligada programme – a female economic empowerment programme working in the four largest cities in the country: Maputo, Tete, Beira and Nampula.

Prior to this role I used to work in DFID’s gender team, in the Inclusive Societies Department. A central part of this team’s work was to ensure that gender was well represented in the Global Goals, both as a standalone goal and mainstreamed throughout. The ‘leave no-one behind’ principle – ensuring that the Global Goals would reach the most marginalised and poorest, who due to discrimination and prejudice were unable to benefit from the gains made by development and growth – was at the heart of this Department’s work.

It is a principle that is now writ large in the Global Goals and the communications and campaigns that surround them. They will not have achieved what they set out to achieve if the very poorest remain poor, if the most marginalised still live on the outside of development and if exclusion and prejudice continue to stunt equality of opportunity.

My understanding of this principle, up until a few days ago, was very much focused on the understanding that the leave no-one behind agenda was about reaching the right people, and the right number of those people. We were running a marathon; it would take time and our work required diligent preparation, stamina and determination.

I wasn’t thinking very much about pace - yet Mozambique has revealed something very different about this work. We need to achieve all of the above, but with this commitment to the long-haul we also need to be nimble.

Things are changing in Mozambique. Mozambique ranked 184th out of 187 countries in the 2011 UN Human Development Index (HDI) - ahead of only Burundi, Niger and DRC. However recent significant natural resource finds may change this.

If estimates are confirmed Mozambique would have the second largest gas reserves in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria. Proven coal reserves are also large and within 15 years Mozambique should be Africa's second largest coal producer (after South Africa) and one of the largest coal exporters in the world.

 The scale of private sector investment in Mozambique is unlike anything witnessed before. Mozambique will see massive increases in state revenue as a result of natural resource extraction. Current estimates suggest that gas finds could yield tax revenues of $200-240bn over the lifespans of their operations. The export of 25 million tonnes of coal a year would generate $750 million in revenues for the Government of Mozambique, equal to the education budget for 2010.

Change is happening and happening fast. What does ‘leave no-one behind’ mean in this context? If Mozambique realises these projected investments and revenues how might we ensure the gains reach the most marginalised in Mozambique?

As mentioned earlier I am here to work in the recently launched Ligada programme. The programme is looking to improve access to jobs and services for girls and women. There is no doubt that thus far girls and women in Mozambique have been left behind. Urban 19-24 year old women suffer the highest unemployment rates in the country[i]. Mozambique has the 11th highest rates of child, early and forced marriage in the world and 1 in 3 women have suffered gender based violence.

Yet, this time of change, growth and huge private sector investment presents many opportunities.

For example, Ligada focuses on four urban centers - cities are areas where there are opportunities to change entrenched gender roles, where women are diversifying their income and employment streams, and are able to capitalize on social networks. Increasing private sector investment presents opportunities to present alternative visions of girls and women’s role in society, new jobs, training and the potential to address social norms such as violence against women and girls through corporate communications, employee engagement and marketing.

These are however windows of opportunities, and they may open and close relatively quickly. We cannot assume we know what works – this a new period of growth for Mozambique. No-one has been here before. For Ligada to capitalize on these new opportunities the programme must be nimble, able to take risks, innovate, learn quickly, question, reassess often and adapt.

To reflect on another conversation I had this week; my 4 year old saw a young boy pushing a cart probably 4-5 times his weight across the street in front of his school. My son was worried about him. The work was clearly extremely hard going; he had no shoes and should have been in school. Initial research through Ligada has found that there is a business model that recruits children from the rural areas to become street sellers. The employer offers bed and board, a stipend and sometimes commission. These children are difficult to reach and extremely vulnerable.

‘Let’s fix this’ my son said determinedly.

‘Yes’ I agreed ‘It’s something I’m here to work on.’

This was not a satisfactory answer. ‘Now’ he said, with an urgency that, I realized, was sometimes too easy to forget. By this point the boy had disappeared into a crowd of people and the opportunity was lost.

It was another reminder to me that the work in New York, the Global Goals and the leaving no-one behind agenda in Mozambique will not just be about reaching the most marginalised in time, although without a doubt a lot of our work requires time and sustained engagement, but that we must also work with the urgency my son expressed because opportunities will come but they will also go. If we want to reach the poorest in these times of change we need to run the marathon, yes, absolutely, but sometimes we will also need to be prepared to sprint.

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[i] At 35% according to INE’s 2005 data, with male rates at 25%

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