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Roza Otunbayeva, Former President of the Kyrgyz Republic

Wednesday, 08 July 2015


Ladies and Gentlemen,

My country, the Kyrgyz Republic, and all Central Asian countries have evidently demonstrated once in the past that education is the single most influential factor to unlock progress across the development spectrum.  Almost century ago, since Soviet time  it has translated into dramatic gains – in terms of reduced infant, child and maternal mortality; better nutrition; delayed age of marriage; higher income and economic growth. We have “graduated” from Socialism with almost 100% literacy for both women and men.  After two decades of painful transition, our goal is not to dilute this tangible investment of the past but instead to reinforce it by reforming  the education system, building  comprehensive, holistic and transformative vision of education for the next 15 years. The World Education Forum in Incheon (May 2015), which I was part of, hosted by the Republic of Korea and organized by UNESCO with six UN co-conveners, and the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Aichi Nagoya, Japan (November, 2014) adopted Declarations by 120 education ministers and representatives from 169 countries which charts a new course for education that is holistic, ambitious, and aspirational.  

The evidence is irrefutable – education is the bridge between poverty and prosperity. 

In Incheon, the UN Secretary-General was unequivocal – “everything I am, I owe to education”.  

The proposed SDG4 - “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all” - is a vision that leaves no one behind, that calls for 12 years of publicly funded education, and that paves the way for education to be transformative -- by encompassing not only the basics, but the skills and values that are necessary to confront challenges besetting us today: climate change, violent extremism, rapid economic transformations, and deep fractures within and between societies. 

I know first-hand from the transition of my country to democracy the importance that education carries for democratic changes, for adapting to new economic forces, and for promoting tolerance, understanding and living together. 

The MDGs on education have unleashed unprecedented progress, but they did not place explicit emphasis on the inclusion and equity dimension

Inequalities start early – this is the reason my Foundation invests in early childhood care and education – it is an equalizer and gives the most disadvantaged children strong foundations from the start. 

In order to implement the SDGs we need to learn about how to prioritize investments that can help us to achieve multiple goals at one time. School meals,  for example, can contribute towards achieving the first five SDGs - on poverty, hunger, health, education and gender equality. School meals encourage families to educate their children, while protecting their food security. 

The Government of my country is investing around US$10 million per year in a national school meals program that assists all public primary school students in grades 1 to 4. The benefits of this program for children’s education, nutrition and poverty reduction far outweigh the cost of less than 20 US cents per child per day. Now we are working with the World Food Program on an innovative pilot to maximize this investment, by improving program design so that we can provide higher quality, more nutritious meals without increasing costs. 

 To meet the SDGs aspirational agenda the world must secure adequate financing – the Incheon Declaration calls for the allocation of at least 15% to 20% of total public expenditure to education. The declining trend in aid to education has to be reversed and new financial sources mobilized – including  through more active involvement of private businesses in genuine public-private partnership.  Also, North-South and – very importantly - South-South educational exchanges should be expanded. The developing world pays its tribute to Bill and Melinda Gates and their Foundation’s consistent and tireless efforts to save hundreds of millions of people’s lives and eagerly waits for its well-deserved Bill Gates in Education!  

 In short, if we are to make a successful transition to the SDGs, it is imperative to tap the youth dividend by putting education first. Young people, first and foremost, will be the torch bearers of the next Sustainable Development agenda through 2030! 

Ladies and Gentlemen! 

In the Club de Madrid, of which I am a Member, we trust and devote ourselves to the Shared Society vision, where everyone benefits and no one is left behind. At national level we need to be inclusive and participatory of all sections of society. Equally at the global level the concerns and interests of all states need to be heard and taken into account. An open letter that the Club de Madrid circulated to member states recently was called "Shared Burdens, Shared Benefits" . 

We believe empowering women and developing their leadership role in society is a key strategic priority since women’s participation in politics – but also in society in general – is a critical component of democratic dialogue and social cohesion. Gender equality and women’s empowerment stimulate and strengthen modernization of countries in our part of the world which seriously struggle now with the revival of patriarchism, religious strife, and old outdated habits and traditions.  Many challenges still remain in terms of sexual and reproductive health rights and of closing related financing gaps in the post-2015 framework – including women’s economic empowerment and family planning. Investing in national gender structures, national statistical offices, women’s rights organizations and civil society at the local level will also be key to achieving gender equality and women’s rights in the context of the post-2015 agenda. 

The SDGs galvanize all governments, mobilize all societies to streamline the comprehensive goals to end poverty and ensure more equitable development and environmental sustainability. The first global experience with the eight MDGs has been tangible: during the last 15 years the whole planet was learning to work in an orchestrated, integrated way. Poverty across the world is still far away from the dream of a great visioner Muhammad Yunus to be send to the Museum. However the successes reached today bring us satisfaction, hope and aspiration.  

The SDGs address the issue of governance, of justice, of inclusiveness, of the rule of Law, the MDGs dont. Corruption is a worldwide scourge that we have to fight on a worldwide scale. The fight against corruption does not figure among the MDGs, among the SDGs it does, although, to be honest, I would have expected a more ambitious language.  

Approaching towards to Addis-Ababa there is much talk about increasing the revenue and tax base of developing countries, in order to have enough of own money to finance development. God blessed my nation with solid mining minerals. Meanwhile we have been caught in conflict for decade with our investors. One of the reasons - in the developing countries we are not fit enough, do not have the tools to deal with the often outstandingly elegant and able pin stripped bankers and lawyers. I do believe it is a right time to look and reconsider the role and place of IFIs responding to the needs of sustainable development.  The World Bank, to my opinion, should assist to negotiate contracts with investors that are to our real benefit, truly serve our nation and not only to investor or some local corrupted politicians.  

To manage the transition to the SDGs, my country - as well as many others - needs technical and capacity development support, especially to strengthen its statistical capacity, build ownership of sustainable development, and mobilize all stakeholders to find technical and financial solutions for pressing development issues. As a landlocked, mountainous country in the vast Eurasian region, Kyrgyzstan expresses its desire to be included in UN DESA’s “Pilot Country” initiative

Before I conclude, I want to add my voice to one of the acute issues of the day: migration,  in particular the labor rights of migrant workers. This discussion was brought up by number of delegates in the Political Forum. According to the World Bank, migrant workers' remittances are - after governments' own budgetary resources -  the second most important financial catalyst of development. In my country, Kyrgyzstan, 31% of the national income are remittances from our countrywomen and -men working in other parts of the world. As we cannot create enough employment at home, hundreds of thousands of our citizens - men and women - leave to earn a sometimes miserable income, which they then transfer to their families back home. In making this sacrifice for their families, they too often experience personal drama, lawlessness, humiliation, brute force, sexual abuse and - as abhorrent as it is - death due to crime or unsafe working conditions.  

Migrant labor did not figure at all in the MDGs; in the SDGs, it does. Target 8.8 directly addresses this issue when it speaks of "Protect labor rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment". What a positive development, if only this target really were to be pursued and achieved. I call on all member states to pay specific attention to the implementation of this target.  

I am also heartened to learn that the draft outcome document of next week's Addis conference foresees a paragraph to considerably reduce transfer costs of remittances, so that the money migrant workers earn under sometimes precarious conditions really gets to the families in need back home and is not drastically reduced by exorbitant transfer costs which end up in the pockets of some vulture-like money wiring institutions and their white collar employees. 

Ladies and Gentlemen! 

Expecting with the big hope approval of the SDGs this fall by the Heads of States and Governments I want to remained you about               the role of culture as a development enabler – culture goes to the essence of who we are, of our identity. 

Culture in the broadest sense –cultural heritage, cultural diversity, cultural expression, indigenous knowledge, the creative sector –is not only a job incubator, but fundamentally it is the basis of a development paradigm that is inclusive and rooted in respect for human rights and dignity. A culture of sustainability must be built into education and learning, because change starts with awareness.   

Central Asia is at the heart of the Silk Road – for centuries merchants, ideas and cultures have walked in both directions, linking the East and the West. Our geographical landscape as well as our chromosomes feature this historical heritage. Let us combine the challenges of the future with our time-honored traditions. Investing in Central Asia by transferring knowledge and education into our fertile soil will make it blossom. The dividends of such investment will be higher than we can all imagine today.  Let us renew and completely restore a Silk Road of culture!