As We Emerge From The Covid-19 Pandemic, We Must Build Back Better

Over the last two years, the global Covid-19 pandemic has proven that no part of our lives is immune to its destructive forces. A complete economic and social moratorium has been the standard governmental response to the Covid19 pandemic. On a daily basis, we have been updated about further steps to be taken to address the outbreak. We were being told about the numbers of infected and deceased. We were being told about the economic impact of the pandemic. As the world emerges from the global pandemic, there is an opportunity to rethink how to build back better.

In order to accommodate such conversations, on February 26-27, 2022, the Oxford Forum for International Development (the Oxford Forum), one of the largest student-run International Development conferences in Europe, will open its doors for the 15th time. The two-day conference, entitled “Aurora: Redefining Progress and Navigating Transition”, aims to facilitate dialogue between various stakeholders in International Development, starting conversations through a conference between students, researchers, young professionals, policymakers, practitioners and leaders on what it means to build back better.

As the organizers emphasize: “From this transitional point, we have a monumental opportunity to advance development efforts. International development has to change, and it needs to manage transformation in our attitudes, institutions and beyond. With that in mind, we must adopt multidimensional priorities and multifaceted efforts to address sustainability and inclusion.”

Among others, the two-day conference will cover such topics as global healthcare in the 21st century, natural disaster relief, sustainability and renewable energy. The sessions will grapple with the question of how the wider community could be engaged in international development policy. One of the keynote speakers, Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, will discuss how the pandemic has increased global interdependence and discuss whether the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are achievable. Another keynote speaker, Anita Bhatia, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women, will discuss the pandemic’s effects on fighting for gender equality and how to recover lost ground and also the feminist approaches to sustainable development and social justice.

The conference will also focus on some of the worst atrocities from recent years and review the legal steps taken to address them, including in response to the atrocities against the Yazidis targeted by Daesh, Rohingya Muslims targeted by the Burmese military, the Uyghurs targeted by the Chinese authorities, and others. The panelists, including Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, both peers at the U.K. House of Lords, Aarif Abraham and Sareta Ashraph, both barristers, will critically analyze the steps taken to day and provide predictions for future engagements on such international crimes as genocide. They will consider the effectiveness of existing policy tools and legal mechanisms designed to deliver accountability and transparency.

The Oxford Forum will facilitate conversation and collaboration between actors in international development and inspire attendees to engage with global issues. In the words of the organizers, “This change must take place on every level for us to overcome the present obstacles of parochial interests, polarization, and pessimism. If we are willing to work together, to form partnerships that support mutual growth, to ensure that progress is not just the privilege of a few but a realistic and attainable target for all, we will be reenergized in the pursuit of our aims, and we will be empowered in our efforts to navigate transition.”

The Oxford Forum provides a great platform to engage with such ideas and proposals. However, these must be taken up by leaders who have mastered the art of making pledges, but not following through on them. We not only have the opportunity to rethink and build back better, we have a duty to do so.