What Now With Millennium Development Goals?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 8/06/2010 12:01:00 AM
So here we find ourselves just five years away from the Millennium Development Goals' designated target date of 2015. Now comes another thought-provoking article from the LSE house journal Global Policy on "What Next for the Millennium Development Goals?" by Todd Moss of the US-based Center for Global Development (CGD). Followers of international development should be familiar with the criticisms of William Easterly that the goals are cast in such a way as to downplay the encouraging gains made by African nations in particular. In general, Easterly is famously critical of plans and targets.

However, what Moss emphasizes here is that the global mindset is often fixated on concepts like the "war on poverty" and other similarly high-faluting notions. Rather than fight that trend, he suggests recasting the MDGs in such a way that makes them both more palatable to development critics and more cognizant of the development challenges that result in material improvements in the lives of the poor. What follows is the concluding section of a rewarding read:
In an ideal world, we could avoid all the circus of UN summits and misleading use of targets and finger pointing by just abandoning utopian global goals. However, given the cycle of the past and the dynamics within international organizations, another round of MDG-like goals seems inevitable. A second-best approach is to try to fix them based on the following principles that directly try to address some of the shortcomings. Any new MDGs should be:

• Bottom up, not global down. New global goals should be based on the aggregation of each country's targets rather than setting a world goal and then retrofitting targets to country plans.
• Based on ambitious yet reasonably achievable expectations. New country-based goals must take into account the context and starting point of each country's circumstances, combined with bold yet practicable improvements. It took the United States from 1800 to 1905 to make the transition from 40 per cent school enrollment to universal coverage. Expecting countries currently at a similar 40–50 per cent level (like Ethiopia, Mali, Burkina Faso or Senegal) to race ahead to 100 per cent completion rates in just 15 years seems utterly unworkable.
• Aimed, where possible, on intermediate outcomes. A requisite for upholding even a modicum of accountability means picking targets that are more closely linked to things under control of the relevant actors. For instance, health officials and their partners in donor agencies have much more scope to influence immunization rates than overall child mortality rates.
• Considered warning markers rather than operational goals. Global goals are useful in letting us know where we are and as a signal for where we hope to be one day. They also can add pressure on governments, in both the rich and poor worlds, to identify where they may need to apply additional efforts and arm their own citizens with information. Yet such benchmarks are not necessarily useful either for making funding decisions or for assigning praise or condemnation to regimes or the development community as a whole.
• Able to identify success. Scorecards of progress should be able to identify and celebrate success of those countries ahead of the curve and being creative in enhancing the lives of their people.
There are many other goals that could be added to the mostly social indicators currently on the MDG list. My ideal set of goals would include things like job creation, access to electricity and, perhaps, bank accounts – things that help generate economic opportunity and are the only sustainable path out of poverty and aid dependency. If we fail to adapt the next round of international development goals, we are likely to remain stuck in a cycle of well-meaning but ultimately empty global aspirations – and destined to having the same debate, yet again, in 2030.