If the post-2015 breakfast meetings have been useful, it’s partly because of the process

In Brief: 
  • The informal and inclusive nature if the post-2015 breakfast meetings at the Bahá’í International Community has made them especially useful, say participants.
  • Use of the Chatham House Rule encouraged open and forthright discussion on SDGs negotations at the UN.
  • Meetings became a space where the UN officials, member states, and civil society couldcome together in an open, consultative atmosphere.

NEW YORK — Participants in the breakfast meetings held on Agenda 2030 over the last three and a half years at the offices of the Bahá’í International Community say that, beyond the substance provided by keynote speakers, it has been the inclusive and informal nature of the process at the gatherings that made them the most useful.

“Part of the problem with the UN is that it is very formal,” said Francois Gave, Counsellor for development and sustainable development with the Permanent Mission of France to the UN. “It is rarely interactive; those who do things on the ground rarely speak out.

“And that is why [these] meetings are helpful. They are more interactive, less formal, and doers sometimes speak out,” said Mr. Gave, who has been a frequent attendee at the breakfasts.

As of December 2015, there had been 30 such breakfast meetings, all focused around themes and issues related to the post-2015 development agenda, as Agenda 2030 was known before its adoption in September.

The format has been simple. Two or three “experts” — representing a diversity of viewpoints (North/South, governments/UN, business/academia) — were invited to give brief keynote talks. Participants were then encouraged to engage in a unconstrained conversation on the topic.

The idea has been to create a serious but informal atmosphere, where participants could exchange ideas on an equal footing.

Perhaps most important to this has been the use of the Chatham House Rule for follow-up discussions after the keynote talks. The Chatham House Rule states simply that participants may freely use the information received but without identifying the identity or affiliation of the discussant.

The idea has been to encourage open and forthright discussion, by allowing people to express views which may not be those of their organization.

“We like the use of the Chatham House Rule,” said Evans S. Maturu, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the UN. “People can express their views freely and it’s a place that encourages people to say what is on their minds. It is very informative.”

A second element of the process has been to explicitly encourage diplomats, UN officials, and civil society representatives to engage freely with each other in an atmosphere of trust and civility. After opening statements, more than an hour is devoted to an off-the-record exchange among participants.

“The idea was to create a space where the UN officials, member states, and civil society can come together in an open, consultative atmosphere to discuss issues related to the post-2015 agenda,” said Serik Tokbolat, a representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations, who often moderates the meetings.

John Gilroy, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN, also a frequent participant, said his mission appreciated “the variety of opinions, across member states, the UN system and civil society.”

“It is never just like-minded navel gazing,” he added. “Many other meetings see the discussion taper out after the main speakers intervene.”

UN officials also find the meetings helpful in their work. Sylvia Hordosch, a Policy Adviser with UN Women said the “balance between a structured conversation around a clearly defined topic and the openness of the conversation, the mix of people and the safe environment” has made the meetings particularly useful to her.

“The meetings were an important learning opportunity — hearing what others think on specific aspects of the post-2015 negotiations, an opportunity to share our views and to meet people,” said Ms. Hordosch.

Viniciu Carvalho Pineiro, Deputy Director of the International Labour Organization’s Office for the United Nations, said the openness of the meetings has created “a way to get inside information and to hear early insights into issues that will be very important” in the near future in relation to the post-2015 process.

For representatives of civil society, too, the egalitarian and forthright nature of the meetings has been important.

“It’s such a good example of the kind of discussion you can’t have within the UN,” said Nicole Cardinal, Senior Advocacy Advisor with Save the Children International’s Global Advocacy Office in New York. “You get a wide variety of UN officials, member states and civil society around the table. And [the meetings] are less agenda-driven then other side events where the organizers want to get a point across.

“It’s an open platform and everyone is equal,” she added. “It allows a way for civil society to interact with member states in a way that is not as intimidating to some.”

Daniel LeBlanc, chair of the NGO Committee on Financing for Development, and the UN representative of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, said the consistent high level of participation by governments and UN officials was proof of the meetings’ value.

“They can talk in a way that is different from the UN where they have to give their government’s position. Here they can speak more freely about what they are thinking and feeling,” he said.

This is particularly important to civil society he added. “This allows us to form allies and plan who we can advocate with.”