NEW YORK- The Annual Civil Society Development Forum held by the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO), in Consultative Relationship with the Economic and Social Council of the UN was held over three days in Geneva, 29-30 June and 1 July. The theme was "Civil society's essential role in achieving education for all".

There were four main themes to the forum: education for development; education and decent work; young girls and women, and vulnerable and minority groups.

Competitiveness is not the aim of education; the aim of education is to prepare future citizens to live in their communities and to understand the nature of diversity. Education should involve not only ministries of education, but of finance and infrastructure as well, since there should be roads to enable transportation to schools, construction of sound school buildings and the provision of information and communication technologies.

Education is lasts a lifetime and should prepare everyone to contribute to, and understand the transition to, sustainable economies. Women's rights, women's empowerment and gender equality are also tied to the internationally agreed development goals in education.

A strong recommendation to the Annual Ministerial Review of ECOSOC was that the contribution of universities be much more visible in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially from the Academic Impact Initiative.

Youth preparedness for productive employment and decent work can also prepare the next generation for roles as entrepreneurs in the technologically complex world they are now and will be facing. Indigenous people have often been the subject of education that is more geared to their assimilation into a broader society, instead of on focusing on the contributions that their languages, cultures and ways of perceiving the universe offer to everyone's lifestyles.

Civil society agreed that the time to achieve the MDGs is "now" -- there is no more time to lose if the internationally agreed development goals including the MDGs are to be achieved within the next five years.

This annual meeting is the flagship of CoNGO, in Consultative Relationship with the United Nation's Economic and Social Council, and as such provides representatives of government with concrete recommendations on subjects with which the UN is deeply concerned. Under the new leadership of Cyril Ritchie, who for over 30 years has provided leadership for the NGO community in Geneva, CoNGO will keep urging governments to move forward with an “eye on the prize:” achieving the MDGs by 2015.