Some years ago, I learned an invaluable lesson from a Thai villager about people we often call "the world's poorest and most vulnerable."
At the time, I was a technical advisor with the adult education division of the Ministry of Education in Thailand. A team of Thai colleagues and I were visiting villages in the rural northeast, one of the poorest parts of the country, to evaluate functional literacy and vocational training programs.
In one village, out-of-school youth were learning how to cultivate and market mushrooms to sell locally. The program used educational methods that encouraged participation and discussion. Among other evaluation questions, we asked participants, "How has this program affected your life?" Since the young people hadn't gone beyond primary school and had limited marketable skills, we expected them to focus on any economic benefits of the initiative.
One young woman, Khun Noi, gave a response that really caught my attention. Her answer: "I now like to get up in the morning." What I heard in her words was a sense of hope for the future, of possibilities, and of her own value - yearnings which we all share. Khun Noi helped me understand that effective development and my own role in this work must recognize and advance the basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
In 2000, world leaders made an unprecedented global commitment to uphold human dignity and free all people from the abject and dehumanizing forces of poverty. At the United Nations, countries of the world adopted a set of time bound targets called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals are the first ever set of common global targets to determine priorities, guide investments, and track progress in developing countries.
Thirteen years later, what has happened as a result of the MDGs? Poverty and hunger, overall, have reduced significantly. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell by more than half, from 47 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2010. The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions fell from about 23 percent in the period from 1990-1992 to 15 percent twenty years later. Gains also have been made in primary school enrollment and reducing child mortality.
But, progress has been uneven. Targets for reducing maternal mortality, achieving gender equality, and ensuring environmental sustainability still need to be met. Also, progress has been especially uneven in rural areas and countries experiencing conflict, as well as for marginalized groups. We must make sure that as we move forward on tackling poverty that vulnerable groups are not left behind. With the help of the UN, countries are launching acceleration plans to meet the 2015 deadline.
There is still more work to be done even if these targets are met. More than one billion people still will be living in extreme poverty in 2015. One in eight people remain chronically undernourished, with one in four children suffering from stunted growth because of malnutrition.
With the proven results of the MDG's common global framework for action and targets, leaders and communities are dreaming more boldly for how to build on the goals beyond 2015. What's emerging is the conviction that we can be the generation not just to reduce, but actually to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030. This vision includes social, economic, and environmental dimensions with an emphasis on reducing inequalities and violence, as well as ensuring the sustainability of our planet.
How can such a bold and ambitious agenda be realized? In 2000, experts shaped the formulation of the MDGs. For the post-2015 agenda, people from all walks of life can contribute their ideas for priorities and strategies through both online and live consultations. You can add your voice in two ways.
First, go to The World We Want to vote on your top priority concerns. Also, participate in consultations on specific issues like health or environmental sustainability.
Second, attend a national consultation on the post-2015 agenda to recommend specific actions for your own country. So far, almost 100 countries have convened national consultations. In the U.S., the United Nations Association and UN Foundation are planning 10 open forum-type consultations this fall in the following chapters and divisions: Chicago, Denver, Iowa, Kansas City, northern California, the New York tri-state area, Sarasota, Fla., southern California, and Wilmington, N.C.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is asking all of us to stand together to bring about "a life of dignity for all," for people in both developing and developed countries. Join the movement. Help ensure environmental sustainability for our planet and better lives for people worldwide, leaving no one behind. This is a historic opportunity for us to keep the hopes and dreams of people like Khun Noi at the center of the agenda.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the NGO alliance InterAction around the United Nations General Assembly's 68th session and its general debate on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), "Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage" (September 24-October 2, 2013). The session will feature world leaders discussing progress made on the MDGs and what should replace them when they expire in 2015. To read all the posts in the series, click here; to follow the conversation on Twitter, find the hashtag #No1Behind. For more information about InterAction, click here.