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Paving the way toward the MDGS and beyond

Written by Susan Nicolai


​Global development targets were high on the agenda at the 68th United Nations General Assembly held a month ago in New York. While this involved what one colleague described as the ultimate post-2015 talk-fest, as much or more time was spent on the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and last-ditch efforts to speed progress before their end date. A range of heads of state, world leaders and celebrities weighed in with their own calls to action and reported pledges of over US$3billion. Covering the final two years of MDG implementation, it is vital to make the most of these commitments.

Here at ODI’s Development Progress, we asked a range of development experts how they would focus these efforts to accelerate MDG progress. Our eight contributors spanned the continents and hailed from a range of backgrounds, having worked with civil-society groups, policy think-tanks, the United Nations, and the World Bank.

We asked a simple question: ‘What do you see as the single most important thing needed to accelerate progress toward the MDGs?’ Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answers were as complex as the messy world of development.

Still, some headlines came through.

Think long-term, no quick fixes

There was a strong call for a shift away from focusing on targets towards greater sustainability of approach. Charles Abugre argued that, for Africa and elsewhere, development efforts need to shift from a narrow MDG focus toward broader structural transformation. Writing from Latin America, Andrea Ordoñez called for development of long-term finance strategies as key to ensuring that development gains can be sustained. Hania Sholkamy, based in the Middle East, explored the fact that progress is not linear, contending that the processes surrounding rights and basic justice deserve more attention as they ultimately determine sustainability. Gonzalo Pizarro, who has worked on MDG efforts with a number of countries, reminds us that development has always been long-term, didn’t start in 2000, and won’t stop in 2015.

Tackle inequity and uneven progress

As recently captured in a think piece by Kevin Watkins, there is widespread recognition that inequity and uneven progress have slowed MDG achievement and threaten progress in any post-2015 framework. Debapriya Bhattacharya and Towfiqul Islam Khan stress how poorly the group of 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) has performed in terms of the MDGs, largely achieving only slow progress or appearing off track. Ordoñez highlights how high levels of inequality risk people falling back into poverty, especially in the face of economic shocks. Renosi Mokate, calling for a specific focus on the sub-Saharan African region, which is lagging behind, claims that ‘business as usual’ approaches will not be enough, and that more attention should be given to women and children.

Address political context and bottlenecks

A number of contributors highlight the need to factor in political context more, as a key determinant underlying development action and its bottlenecks. Sholkamy calls for much more attention to be given to political context, particularly given the fact that fragile and conflict-affected states have performed so poorly on MDG achievement. Shantanu Mukherjee, working with the MDG Acceleration Framework, a systematic way for countries to development their own MDG action plan, explains how that process can help a country consider its efforts toward addressing a specific MDG and more effectively work with a range of partners to address bottlenecks and constraints to progress.

Local leadership, national plans

The central role of national and community leaders came out strongly in several of the blogs. Pizarro takes this as his central theme, using a consultation in Belize on water and sanitation to illustrate how homegrown solutions are most effective and often counter ‘expert’ assumptions. Mukherjee explains how MDG Acceleration Framework action plans are integrated into national plans, and Abugre emphasises the steady implementation of national plans alongside a review of policies to ensure they link to a broader, transformative agenda. Several writers went further, referencing the weakness of MDG 8 on global partnerships, and stressing the need to move away from aid-dependency in poverty-eradication efforts towards support for nationally driven change defined on its own merits.

Invest in better data

There is an urgent need for better data and qualitative evidence, according to a number of the authors. Abugre and others would like to see better data systems put in place over the next two years to strengthen accountability as part of a renewed development agenda. Mukherjee highlights how MDG processes have already collected a wealth of information, and that a greater focus on sub-national data is important to help customise approaches to tackling inequalities. Sholkamy calls for a broader set of ‘meta-data’ that would incorporate process, and warns against becoming ‘stuck in a methodological rut of indicators and proxy indicators’.

In the time remaining for MDG achievement, it is clear that discrete interventions alone will not ensure delivery. Perhaps it was unfair to ask what single thing was most needed to accelerate progress toward the MDGs; but fair or not, the question certainly led our contributors to define what they saw as ultimately important. Long-term thinking, a focus on those left behind, better awareness of political context, country-level analysis and plans, and investment in better data: these are all needed in the last stretch down the MDG road and form an essential part of the foundations for a post-2015 development agenda.


Susan Nicolai - The Millennium Development Goals: one last push

Charles Abugre Akelyira - Achieving the MDGs in Africa: should we accelerate?

Andrea Ordóñez - Why long-term finance is so important for Latin America

Gonzalo Pizarro - The art of the possible: listening to the real experts

Hania Sholkamy - Context is all: why ignoring politics is a risky game

Dr. Renosi Mokate - Influencing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals

Shantanu Mukherjee - The Millennium Development Goals: a framework for accelerating impact

Debapriya Bhattacharya and Towfiqul Islam Khan - MDGs in the LDCs: six lessons for post-2015