What can the failure of the world to achieve all of the eight millennium development goals teach us about the future direction of the global developmental agenda?

As the international leaders gather for a Summit at the United Nations to evaluate the progress achieved by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the last 15 years, they would also need to consider the promises they will make to further galvanise action from civil society organisations, and engage representatives from developing nations. In the meantime, if one takes a look at the world around, 15 years after September 2000, when heads-of-states gathered at the UN and unanimously adopted the Millennium Declaration, committing to achieving eight goals by 2015, the picture appears very bleak. There are more than 1 billion people still living in desperate poverty, there is a poor respect for human rights and civil liberties in many regions, conflicts rage on a large-scale leaving behind long-term damage that generations have to live with, despite the increased access to education, its quality is still deficient, and gender inequality is still at its infancy.

So what could the proposed set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 169 targets, bring that is likely to make a greater difference than their predecessors, and form the basis of a transformative intergovernmental development agenda? The greatest mistake that could be repeated is the presumed universality of the goals that fails to acknowledge the very sensitive and country and region-specific realities. For example the reality on the ground in Nigeria and its development agenda, at the backdrop of the recent Ebola outbreak and the threat of the extremist organisation Boko Haram, is likely to vary significantly from the reality and political priorities in Bangladesh. The achievement of the goals will largely depend on the effectiveness of their implementation on the ground and the commitment of government leaders in charge.

The success of the renewed ambition to incorporate an innovative universal developmental agenda for the next 10-15 years should be judged on the difference been made in people’s lives in some of the poorest regions of the world, rather than solely on the economic growth of a country – Amina Mohammed[1]. There is an importunate need for ‘Inclusive Capitalism’ to be incorporated in the post-2015 developmental framework. The challenge that lies ahead for many developing nations is dealing with the often conflicting priorities of securing foreign capital and investment in their countries, while facilitating an inclusive growth, which ensures that the labour force is trained and receives a fair wage that positively contributes towards the social development of the population in the long run. The problem arises from the fact that foreign direct investment (FDI) often contributes to low income, low skilled economy, and economic imbalances, creating a favourable environment for social unrest in the future, not conducive of a balanced sustainable social and economic advancement. Visible growth must be measured against mitigation of income inequality, improvement of healthcare, education and social mobility. Therefore social development should be included in the measurement of a country’s GDP. In many developing countries GDP is viewed in isolation, and the levels of poverty remain unacceptable.

Many critics have denounced the MDGs as too minimalist with limited spectre ambitions that leave out crucial issues such as peace and security. This is even more relevant today in the face of unprecedented regional and international threats to peace and security, which have a great impact on the quality of life and future life prospects of young generations. The post-2015 planning needs to deploy an all-encompassing approach that provides for unknown, unexpected challenges. However the most crucial element in the implementation of the future goals that needs to be in place, regardless of their number or focus, is an effective, responsive and accountable government with efficient institutions, that provides for the needs of the majority of the electorate, and develops and implements policies that are designed to address the most pressing national social and economic hardships. Furthermore, in the era of globalisation, countries are increasingly interconnected, and cooperation and coordination on the multinational sphere is a pertinent prerequisite. Nevertheless progress is likely to vary regionally and from country to country, and success, in many of its forms, is not going to be achieved easily or quickly, after all ‘development is a marathon, not a sprint’ [2].


[1] Amina Mohammed, special adviser of the UN secretary general on post-2015 development planning, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/sep/24/un-begins-talks-sdgs-battle-looms-over-goals

[2] http://www.cgdev.org/files/3940_file_WWMGD.pdf, p. 4