The Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) were an approach born
of a benign era of relative stability,
strong economic growth, and fairly
buoyant aid budgets. We now face a
very different world. The crisis/post-crisis
context is, of course, central to many MDG
questions, not only in terms of crisis
impacts on the MDGs and poverty,
but also as regards the impact
on development commitments
internationally and nationally.
What Are the MDGs for?
The MDGs are a set of indicators, but
they are also an idea or “global norm” for
poverty reduction, an incentive structure
for pro-poor development, and a view
of “development” in themselves. Perhaps
the defining question is how global
agreements and conventions change
poor people’s lives. For example,
Manning (this edition, page 4) argues that
the MDGs should be taken “to encourage
sustainable pro-poor development
progress and donor support of
domestic efforts in this direction”.
In this collection, Hulme (page 6) argues
that the MDGs are a “global norm”
institutionalising poverty reduction, but
the need now is for “strategies to shift
international norms so that the citizens
of the present rich countries and future
rich countries … find the existence of
extreme poverty in an affluent world
The MDG “paradigm” itself can be seen
as a broader “human development meets
results-based management” (see again
Hulme), consisting of the quantitative
targets of the MDGs but extended to the
much broader Millennium Declaration.
MDG Impacts So Far
The recent emergence of an “MDG impacts”
literature (in this collection, for example,
see Fukuda-Parr, page 7; Hulme; Manning)
has asked what the MDG impacts have
been to date—in terms of adoption
(in policy), allocation (of resources)
and adaptation (to locally defined goals,
indicators and targets)—and what
the impacts mean looking forward.
As Manning notes here, the impact of
the MDGs on international development
discourse has been immense. Manning
goes on to discuss, for example with
reference to actual spending patterns, that
it is possible that the MDGs have pushed
donor spending towards the social
sectors, since social indicators provided
the bulk of the targets. In contrast,
Fukuda-Parr, reviewing donor priorities
and measuring them against the MDGs,
finds weaker links between the stated
priorities of donors and the MDGs.
A second impact issue concerning
influence is how far the MDGs have
affected policy-making and policy
dialogues in developing countries
themselves. Here too the definitive
evidence is hard to come by.
Fukuda-Parr’s review of how far
Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs)
have incorporated the MDGs shows that
MDGs are only partially integrated into
national-level planning. Manning
suggests that the MDGs have helped
some civil society groups to hold
governments in developing countries
accountable for their decisions.
In contrast, the UNDP’s 2009 study of
30 countries is important and revealing
in this regard. Twenty-five of those 30
countries had added, expanded or
modified indicators and 10 had
added local goals.
An important question is why it is that
some countries have clear evidence
of national ownership of the MDGs
and others have little or none.
There can be no doubt
that the MDGs have
become highly influential
at least at the level of
The Global Fund for
AIDS, TB and Malaria is a
particularly clear example
of a funding agency where
the MDGs (specifically
MDGs 4, 5 and 6) are
central to the agency’s DNA.
MDG Momentum to 2015 and Beyond
A number of cross-cutting issues have
become more prominent since 2000
as a result of changing policy discourses
such as climate, gender, and equity (in this
collection see respectively Urban, page 21;
Jones et al, page 28; Jahan, page 13; Fukuda-
Parr, Vandemoortele and Delamonica,
page 14). These issues were present in
2000 but they were less prominent and
less integrated into the MDGs.
A related question concerns “paradigms”.
Do the MDGs still reflect our knowledge
of what is important about how
“development” happens and how policy
can influence that process? New and
emerging “paradigmatic” lenses for
thinking about development and what
development is about include those
that were well established in 2000,
such as rights (see Robinson, page 18
and Langford, page 19), and those that
have since come to the fore or are
“bubbling under”, such as wellbeing,
(see McGregor, and Sumner, page 26)
social protection (see Jones et al.)
and universalism (see Fischer, page 8).
Though the academic and policy debates
about how to measure development are
important, Wickstead (page 29) reminds us
here that the central question is whether
the MDGs still have political resonance.
He argues convincingly that “far from
losing their political resonance, in fact, the
MDGs have retained their ability to act as a
rallying point for development progress”.
The debate about what, if anything,
can and should succeed the MDGs
after 2015 is still in its very early stages,
and many fear that talking about the
matter will derail the momentum
for the MDGs. It is also a debate that
may prove to be purely theoretical
unless strong political momentum
develops behind the assertion that
there is a need for any successor
agreement to the MDGs.
The good news is what we can do,
which we could not do in 2000,
which is to have a genuinely global,
coordinated process of roundtables,
voices of the poor, blogging, and
uploaded videos. Think of the UN
conferences of the 1990s or Ravi Kanbur’s
World Development Report 2000/1
pre-process + Voices of the Poor +
Web 2.0. Think of “tweeting”
the UN Secretary General.
Such a global process might culminate
in a “new development consensus” that
would build on the key achievements
of the current MDG consensus.
Manning, R. (2009). Using Indicators to Encourage Development: Learning Lessons
from the MDGs. Copenhagen, Danish Institute for International Studies.
Sumner, A. and C. Melamed (2010).
‘The MDGs and Beyond: Pro-Poor Policy in a Changing World’, IDS Bulletin 41 (1): 1-6.
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