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Making steps to create a world without poverty  Ugoku/Ugokasu (GCAP Japan)

This month's Close UP features Ugoku/Ugokasu, a network of civil society organizations established in March 2009 whose aims include policy advocacy and public campaigning to realize the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals for eliminating world's poverty. Its unique name represents the network's belief that a small move of a single person can eventually move the world. For this interview, we talked to Masaki Inaba, executive director, and Yoshimasa Kasahara, STAND UP campaign coordinator.

Masaki Inaba (right) and Yoshimasa Kasahara (left)

Please tell us how Ugoku/Ugokasu was established.

A. In 2000, participating countries at the UN's Millennium Summit declared the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), agreeing to making efforts to halve the world's poverty by 2015. To achieve the MDGs and realize a world without poverty, an international citizen network named Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) was formed in 2005. Today, the network is supported by groups in 131 countries from around the world as its members. Ugoku/Ugokasu was established in 2009 as its Japanese branch and currently features 59 nongovernmental organizations working for global cooperation.

Can you explain about the MDGs in more detail?

A. The MDGs include eight goals that must be met by 2015, such as "eradicating extreme poverty and hunger" and "achieving universal primary education," along with specific measurable indicators for each goal. These goals were established as globally-agreed goals of effort and therefore no participating countries are bound to any mandatory obligations. Still, the MDGs clearly indicate that both developed and developing countries should share responsibilities for solving world poverty.
Due to sluggish global economy caused by the financial crisis, the achievement of the MDGs looks more challenging today than before. However, it must be noted that there have been some major progresses made as the result of the world's collaborative efforts towards these goals. In fact, the situations in Africa in the late 90s were quite miserable due to poverty, conflicts, HIV/AIDS, and such, but today we can talk about their possible economic growth. The World Cup games were held in South Africa last year, which was also a clear sign of such an improvement.

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

What are the main activities of Ugoku/Ugokasu?

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

A. Our two main activities are policy advocacy for realizing the MDGs and also public campaigns for promoting public recognition of the MDGs. To achieve the MDGs by 2015, it is essential to secure ODAs and other sources for funding and effectively utilize it. Advocacies are then necessary to strategically approach key persons such as politicians and government officials, who determine how the ODAs should be spent. In addition to political advocacies, we also seek a significant driving force from civil society by nurturing a strong will for ending world's poverty among the public. STAND UP TAKE ACTION is our ongoing campaign to encourage anyone to be part of our efforts.

Tell us more about STAND UP TAKE ACTION campaign.

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

A. STAND UP TAKE ACTION is a global action campaign in which participants show each one's will to end world poverty by "standing up." This international event takes place around the World Poverty Day (October 17) every year*. On the inaugural stand-up event in 2006, a total of 23,542,614 people stood up around the world and made a Guinness Book record as the number of participants in one event while bringing the world leaders' attention to our voice for eliminating world poverty. In 2010, the fifth year of the campaign, people from 74 countries participated in the Action. In Japan, we had participants from all 47 prefectures.
*The STAND UP TAKE ACTION in 2010 was held on Sep. 17 - 19, just before the United Nation's MDGs review summit.

Can anyone participate in the STAND UP event?

A. Anyone can be part of our STAND UP event. What we ask participants is simply to stand up and pledge what they intend to do to end global poverty. Our participants include those from international organizations and nongovernmental groups working for global cooperation, groups of family members and friends, coworkers standing up together during their lunch time, teachers and students as part of their class work or school event. The more people take action and join the STAND UP event, the stronger the message becomes that we send to the world leaders, which should eventually lead to changes in policies and aid programs. Our next STAND UP event is scheduled in October this year. Please visit our website for details if you are interested.

What would you suggest that each of us can do to solve poverty issues?

A. What is important is that each of us show others that we are concerned about the achievement of MDGs and the improvement of global poverty. You can do so by participating in related volunteer work, making small donations, writing a note on your own blog, and so on. You may write to newspapers, send letters or e-mails to policymakers, or tell your opinion to the TV station about a program you watched about world poverty. You can double the power of your message by continuing to take actions on a daily basis for ending poverty before participating in the STAND UP event as a summary of your actions of the year.

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

In your opinion, why is it taking so long for the MDGs to be recognized in Japan?

A. According to one study, the recognition rate of the MDGs in Japan is merely about 3.5 %. Many people in Japan seem to see poverty issues in Africa and other parts of the world as a problem of someone else far away from them. Because of the nation's recent slow economy, it is often said that Japan has no money to spare for other countries. However, the truth is that our lives in Japan are impossible without a relationship with developing countries. I just find that so many people really don't understand that fact.

Participants learn about MDGs from active NGO members at a workshop

An emergency symposium was held with the media

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

How can we better understand the importance of achieving the MDGs?

A. In some parts of the world, children die from mere diarrhea. The mortality rate of pregnant women can be 2000 times higher than that in the industrial countries. We believe that we in the advanced countries are responsible for eliminating such a huge gap and create a world where anyone in any country can equally receive decent health and educational services. Today, our economic system involves an entire world as a whole. If we leave certain countries and regions continuously suffering from poverty, the entire system will eventually fail. To realize a global prosperity, every part of the world needs to function as a market with a certain degree of purchasing power. Our efforts towards achieving the MDGs can be considered an "investment" in realizing such a global market. Once social infrastructure in developing countries is established by the MDGs, these countries are ready to grow economically toward becoming part of a world market.
In fact, the world has saved enough money and food and skills that are needed to realize the world without poverty. The problem exists in that those resources are distributed unequally. What is missing today is the will of the world leaders who decide how to use such resources. This is why it is so important that each of us speaks out and gives them a push to help them make steps towards the goals.

Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

What are your next tasks and goals?

A.Our first goal is to increase the recognition of the MDGs in Japan. We plan to extend our STAND UP TAKE ACTION event, which has made steady success as a grass-roots campaign, to a wide range of fields. We hope to bring more attention to our activities by collaborating with sport events or music concerts, or involving more businesses or celebrities.
Another important role, which is also our next activity theme, is to plan how to take initiative in continuing efforts to reduce poverty after the MDGs. The global efforts to eliminate poverty will not stop after 2015, the target year for the achievement of the MDGs. We are aware that we should prepare ourselves for activities in the post-MDGs years so that we can maintain our achievement of the past 15 years and add further improvements to it for the future.

At Fuji Rock Festival 2010, Japan's largest outdoor music event
Photo credit:Ugoku/Ugokasu

Lastly, please share your message with our readers.

A. It may sound only unclear for someone when we describe the MDGs as a "promise to reduce world poverty by half." If this is your case, we ask you to read the eight goals of the MDGs one by one. After you take time and read through these goals, you will have a better idea of the issues that our world is really facing. Out there in the world people are dying from hunger, and children are not allowed to go to school. Many women lose their lives during pregnancy or while delivering babies. Once you know these realities, the next thing we hope you understand is that it is possible to solve these problems and that the MDGs are the answers to it. From the world's point of view, Japan has more influence and more potential roles to play in the world than what you and many other Japanese people may imagine. Join us and take action together!