Week 5: Millennium Development Goals 2015 and Beyond

Building on our discussion of goals last class, I thought we might focus this week on one of the better known sets of goals, namely the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.  These 8 goals were set in 1990 with a time horizon of 2015:

  1. To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. To achieve universal primary education
  3. To promote gender equality and empowering women
  4. To reduce child mortality rates
  5. To improve maternal health
  6. To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. To ensure environmental sustainability
  8. To develop a global partnership for development

The new post-2015 framework is meant to build on the MDGs, but the discussions have been fraught, as noted in my first tweet on the subject, one major concern is whether civil society has been marginalised in the process and the discussions are mainly conducted at the inter-governmental level.

One major input to these new goals is the so-called High Level Panel (HLP), which has three co-chairs, the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia as well as David Cameron, the British Prime Minister (something I confess I was unaware before assigning this topic!).  There is also a Secretariat to support the work of the High Level Panel, which includes not just experts from the UN Development Program, but is actually led by a researcher at the Brookings Institution, with other lead researchers from universities including New York University and University of Cape Town.   The HLP identifies five ‘big transformative shifts’ including:

  • Leaving no one behind by moving from reducing to ending poverty
  • Putting sustainable development at the core of policy
  • Transforming economies for jobs and inclusive growth, by involving the private sector
  • Building peace and accountable institutions through democracy and good governance
  • Forging a new global partnership which could, to some extent, shift responsibility for achieving goals from government to civil society

On the subject of goals, however, the HLP only comes up with a list of 12 ‘illustrative goals’, which are further broken down into 54 more specific targets:

1. End poverty (meaning extreme poverty – people living on below $1.25 a day)
2. Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality
3. Provide quality education and lifelong learning
4. Ensure healthy lives
5. Ensure food security and good nutrition
6. Achieve universal access to water and sanitation
7. Secure sustainable energy
8. Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth
9. Manage natural resource assets sustainably
10. Ensure good governance and effective institutions
11. Ensure stable and peaceful societies
12. Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance

The HLP  does not claim that its goals should be the ones adopted, nor do they even make a clear case for what the characteristics of new goals might be.  On the subject of civil society, the alternative, or rather complementary, approach to soliciting input is via a more ‘open’ process, which involves national dialogues in some 88 countries, known as World We Want 2015  There are eleven issues listed on the WWW2015 consultation under the post-2015 agenda: inequalities, health, education, growth and employment, environmental sustainability, governance, conflict and fragility, population dynamics, hunger, food and nutrition security, energy, water.  In addition, there is a My World 2015 survey on priorities which asks  respondents to select their 6 most important issues from a list of 16.  Much like my earlier commentary on the UCU survey of academics regarding the REF, one should take great caution when taking the results of such as a survey as being in any way representative of national populations (think, for example, who actually has access and interest in responding to such surveys!).  Nevertheless, the tool for illustrating priorities is quite a nice one and some of the differences across country, age, gender, is quite thought-provoking.

Some obvious questions are:

1) What have the MDGs themselves accomplished? One might argue that the MDGs simply crystallise what development has been trying to accomplish for decades.  Clean water, ending hunger, etc are objectives which require sustained effort on the part of national governments, development agencies and NGOs, so one might ask what the counterfactual looks like — what would have happened today if there were no MDGs? Even if the situation might look similar to today does that mean MDGs have served no role?

2) What are the advantages of disadvantages of moving away from the 8 current MDGs? What do you think of the specific ‘illustrative’ goals proposed by the HLP?

3) What kind of process should be used in establishing the post-2015 framework?

4) What implications do the MDGs have for individual countries? How can the specific MDGs or sub-targets be translated into national policy actions? What are the implications for development agencies in the North such as DfID or USAID or for major development NGOs such as IRC, Médecins Sans Frontières, World Vision, charity: water, ActionAid or CARE International?

5)  What role has technology played in addressing the current MDGs and should there be more or less emphasis on technology in the next round?