Anticipating 2015: what’s relevant for the well-being of children?

2015 could be billed “The End of Predictability”.  From a return to volatility in financial markets to rising geopolitical risks to (even more) impacts from climate change to vulnerability to disease outbreak, perhaps the Economist’s Editor in Chief John Micklethwait says it best: “Just now the world seems uncommonly hard to manage.”

That does not mean we can’t anticipate, so we at the Policy Planning Unit are once again offering our annual roundup of what *might be* in the year ahead:

Some things persist…

Inequality moves from column “trend to look for” to column “key challenge of our time.” As Amina Mohammed states in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Outlook on the Global Agenda report “the inherent dangers of neglecting inequality are obvious. People, especially young people, excluded from the mainstream end up feeling disenfranchised and become easy fodder of conflict.”

While the growing debate on the dynamics of inequality has moved from academics and protesters into the mainstream, more action is needed at the policy level.  One space to watch is Oxfam’s pledge to challenge global leaders to participate in a world tax summit in 2015.

Climate change is not going away, but Ban Ki Moon calls 2015 a year of opportunity, pointing to December COP-21. The Green Climate Fund received $10.2 billion in 2014 and will start delivering this year. And renewables are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels.


…while others fluctuate

Estimates for 2015 global growth hover around 3.0%.

  • The big news is the price of oil. While there is no clear outlook on whether the plunge will persist, some countries such as Indonesia are seizing the opportunity to cut oil subsidies and invest more in social programs. But oil exporters will suffer. Some, such as Saudi Arabia, have reserves enough to weather the storm, but the already-stressed economies of Venezuela and Russia could see their woes compounded, with potential regional spill-over effects. Countries such as Uganda and Mozambique, considered new frontiers in oil exploration, may see investments reduced.
  • Among rich countries, America stands out in high performance, with Australia and the UK keeping pace. The weak Euro spells bad news for the Euro-zone, as worries about Greece flare up. Japan continues its long crawl out of economic stagnation.
  • The story in emerging markets is one of divergence, with those in Asia showing the strongest growth globally, and Latin America lagging behind.
  • Last year’s heady optimism over growth in fragile states lives on, but with a sobering dose of reality due to continued civil strife and the devastating economic impact of the Ebola crisis. Sierra Leone, which grew 20.1% in 2013, is predicted to be the lowest-growth economy in 2015 with a negative growth rate. Fears persist that the fallout from Ebola will impact Africa as a whole for years to come.  Even against that backdrop, however, most low-income, resource-rich economies will do well this year. Congo is predicted to be the third highest growing economy, with Ivory-Coast not far behind.

Increased polarization and increased danger for children

From Europe to Russia to Asia, Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman is predicting that the move towards a nationalist, country-first agenda will be entrenched, leading to more divisions between and within countries. And the construction of walls and fences to fight against immigration or terrorism is accelerating around the world.

This disintegration appears clearly in 2015’s conflicts. While International Crisis Group President Jean- Marie Guehenno points to areas of progress (Colombia peace talks, Cuba-US relations, Tunisian state building, and Iran nuclear talks), he foresees an overall bleak picture where the 10 most dangerous crises are Syria/Iraq/Islamic State, Ukraine, South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, DRC, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya and the Sahel, and Venezuela.

The plunging oil price and elections are two wild cards for unrest and conflict, particularly when they intersect in oil exporting countries.

These conflicts translate into humanitarian crises for children. UNICEF called 2014 one of the worst years on record for children.  But if these hotspots are hard to predict, even harder is how children will be impacted.


From the Big Summit to the Unconference, two dynamics of the development industry

Welcome to a seminal year in the development business.

  • Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, 2015 will see the closing of the first-ever globally endorsed development goals, the MDGs, and the adoption of an even more ambitious set of universal targets, the Sustainable Development Goals.  Explore how the current proposed agenda matches up with an agenda that would put children first.
  • Grand plans are thus afoot, but who will foot the bill? Many hope that the July Conference on Finance for Development will inject new enthusiasm among donors and attract new investors.
  • Despite the increased focus on resilience and the excitement around the March Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, humanitarian needs are rising, and funding is not keeping up with demand. Ban Ki Moon will appoint a high-level panel to help bridge that gap in preparation for the 2016’s World Humanitarian Summit.

If you play around with lot of sticky notes, use jargon like “mental model,” embrace complexity or brag about failing, you may be part of the growing tribe which has been experimenting with alternative ways of “doing” development for the past decade. And the big actors are now taking serious note, evidenced by the World Bank’s 2015 World Development Report on Mind, Society and Behaviour.


It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s. . . Facebook

Big tech is investing big in areas traditionally delegated to the public sector, further expanding the space for public-private partnerships.

  • For Google’s Alfred Spector the elements of a new education model—not dependent on a physical location, creating immersive experience through video games and virtual reality, and adapting to learning styles and interests using personal data—already exist. Could the $15 million Xprize for a software that will enable any child anywhere to self-teach basic skills kick start a drive to push this forward?
  • The race to connect every single person on the planet is on. Looking to the skies, Facebook experiments with providing internet access through drones, and Google through balloons. Back on earth, Ushahidi’s new product BRCK is a “go anywhere, do anything, self-powered, mobile WiFi device.” And for the last-mile, Vanu’s low-energy consuming mobile base station can serve up to 1,000 people.
  • Wearable technologies are poised to revolutionize health services. Nike and Fitbit technologies help track personal health metrics related to fitness goals. Similar technologies can help people self-manage their chronic illnesses, and improve data on key personal health indicators.

We found prospects for “the world in 2015” particularly bleak, so here are few recent discoveries that got us excited: Echolocation acting as a sixth sense for blind people; a new antibiotic to which bacteria may not become resistant for decades; and a brain-computer interface that could allow paralyzed people to control some devices with their thoughts.

For more thoughts on the world to come, check out the World Economic Forum Global Strategic Foresight Community’s perspectives on global shifts.

What do you anticipate for 2015?

By Eva Kaplan, Katell Le Goulven, Nima Hassan Kanyare and Ya Qing; Policy Planning Unit, UNICEF

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and editors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNICEF, nor of any particular Division or Office.  References to a non-UNICEF site does not imply endorsement by UNICEF of the accuracy of the information contained therein or of the views expressed.

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