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What Should International Development Look Like After 2015?

In 2000, the member states of the United Nations made a historic commitment to achieve eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. The MDGs focus on some of the world’s most pressing development issues, such as poverty, gender, health and basic literacy. With 2015 fast approaching, a conversation has started about what progress has been made, and what still needs to be done. What should the post-2015 goals be?

The MDGs are: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality rates; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.

Progress so far has been uneven, both between regions and countries, and within countries.

In May 2013 the United Nation's High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP) presented its recommendations for global development priorities beyond 2015. These have been greeted with both praise and criticism.

On Twitter the hashtag #post2015 is being used to debate the post-2015 development agenda.

On his blog, Matt Andrews of Harvard's Kennedy School questions whether developing new goals is worth it:

As groups meet to develop post-2015 MDGs I ask: What were the MDGs meant to achieve? Did they achieve this? What evidence is there? Does the evidence really support having post-2015 global goals and targets? Or should we just focus on growth…

Economists Richard Kozul-Wright and Jayati Ghosh write at the Guardian's Poverty Matters blog:

Making inequality part of the development policy agenda has already gained traction. But to make lasting progress, it will be necessary to move beyond MDG-style targets and instead consider a global new deal allowing different economic strategies providing benefits for all.

Image from UN Millennium Development Goals Facebook page.

Image from UN Millennium Development Goals Facebook page.

It has been argued that a key weakness in the MDGs was that they were written without the participation of the people whose lives they were meant to improve. As Megan Williams of the Australian Council for International Development notes at Make Poverty History Australia:

Over 15 years ago, a group of people sat in a room at the United Nations and imagined what it would take to eradicate extreme poverty, and in what time frame it could be achieved. Without much outside consultation they presented eight Millennium Development Goals to the world, which in the years following, galvanised popular action, were written on billboards, marched through streets and painted on buildings. [...] This time instead of being locked in a room discussing what comes next, the conversation is spilling over into boardrooms, parliaments and communities around the world.

This video posted on YouTube by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows how the UN gathered the opinions of people around the world to present to the HLP :

Indonesian student Andhyta Utami (@Afutami) has uploaded a presentation offering a young person's perspective of the post-2015 agenda.

At the Local First blog, John Coonrod of The Hunger Project comments:

In the year 2000, world leaders created the Millennium Development Goals – eight time-bound goals to significantly cut poverty in all its forms. MDGs such as access to pre-school, primary education, good nutrition, safe water and sanitation all require effective local governance. Yet very little was done to “localize” the MDGs.

Coonrod then lists ten priority actions he believes the world community should take to ensure that the post-2015 agenda adheres to the principles of “Local First”, including investing in grassroots civil society and guaranteeing that women’s voices are heard.

Chudi Ukpabi, a international development consultant, focuses on Africa in a blog post at The Broker:

Tackling issues like poverty, inequality, food security, water security and environmental degradation will remain necessary for international development after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. It is my contention that – in the upcoming decades – African countries will need to define and bring their own priorities in terms of social, economic, cultural and political issues, into the debate.

Also at The Broker, Saskia Hollander responds to the HLP report:

It is all too easy to be fooled by rhetoric. Despite its promising transformative discourse, the HLP falls short of recognizing and tackling the economic and political power structures that hamper the desired transformative shifts.

And Indian campaign Wada Na Todo Abhiyan expresses its concerns:

We commend the Panel for their efforts to reach out to a diverse set of stakeholders and make the process participatory, which was a point of discontent with the way the current MDGs were formulated, and appreciate parts of its intent but also have some serious concerns around the fundamentals of the Report. At a glance, the huge shift as the Report states is of “partnership”, i.e. of turning to the private sector as well as civil society “within market principles”, making us quite worried and wary. Further, this big shift comes without a clear articulation of corporate accountability; it is limited to government “prompting” the multinationals, suggestions for companies to internally strengthen their mechanisms, “integrated reporting” and corporations being accountable to their shareholders (which they anyway are).

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which helped to develop the MDGs, is calling for a development agenda not only aimed at the global and universal level, but also at the national level with specific targets adapted to the capacities of countries. It has summarised this two-level approach:

1. Level one: Establish a small set of global goals reflecting universally-agreed outcomes.
2. Level two: Each country translates the global goals into specific targets and indicators which reflect their specific level of development, context, responsibility and capacity. They should also include equality dimensions including gender equity and, where possible, make full use of data disaggregated by sex.

Acknowledging that the world has changed since the MDGs were formulated, the OECD has focused on eleven elements to help adapt to the new realities.

On his blog, Dan Smith of International Alert calls for the debate to continue:

My worry is that the positions taken in the HLP report, more than two years before the UN General Assembly votes through the new development goals, will be about as comprehensive and nuanced as official position-taking will get. From here, I would expect positions to narrow, to lose their challenge and depth while gaining in technocratic legitimacy. Accordingly, it seems time the debate gets properly under way so that doesn’t happen.

This post is part of a series by Global Voices bloggers for the OECD engaging with post-2015 ideas for development worldwide. The OECD is not responsible for the content in these posts.

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