The Global Fund for AIDS, Tubercolosis 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.
There can be no doubt that the MDGs have become highly influential,
at least at the level of international discourse about development. Significant
resources are allocated to tracking them; the UN leads the production of annual
reports about them, convenes regular summit sessions about them, and
sponsors an ongoing “Millennium Campaign”; the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) prepare an annual “Global Monitoring
Report” about them; and no G8 summit is complete without some reference to them.
In 2010 there will be a special summit session of the UN General Assembly to
review the advances to date, and there will be much discussion of a “big push”
to secure the maximum progress on the various MDGs by 2015.
How Have the MDGs Affected Policy?
Most individual donor governments, and the European Union (EU) collectively,
have made specific and regular use of the MDGs in domestic dialogue about the
purpose and effectiveness of development spending. Most international agencies
have also paid much attention to progress or the lack of it relative to the
MDGs, particularly where the agency has a mandate closely related to one
or more of them. The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria is a particularly
clear example of a funding agency to which the MDGs (specifically MDGs 4,
5 and 6) are central.
A study of 21 members of the Development Assistance Committee
(DAC) by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (2008), however, points out that donors’ policy
documents typically pay much attention to issues not explicitly covered in the
MDGs, notably in the areas of promoting peace, security and human rights. These
matters are covered by the Millennium Declaration, but they are not specifically
addressed by the MDGs as such. Nonetheless, there is still a great deal
of coherence between donor policy statements and the MDGs.
As to whether the existence of the MDGs has affected resource allocation by
donors, for the reasons given above it is not possible to give an unambiguous
answer. Undoubtedly the proportion of aid going to the productive sector
(not directly covered by the MDGs) has fallen, and the proportion to social sectors
(well covered by the MDGs) has risen.
Perhaps the MDGs’ most far-reaching and positive influence on donors—though
one that is hard to measure—has been in strengthening the view that if support
for aid is to be sustained, measurable progress must be shown in areas that
the public in donor countries views as desirable. This shift in perception is by
no means universal, and knowledge of the MDGs in donor countries is still
not widespread, but arguably it has made it harder for governments to
“sell” development aid that does not contribute to real development progress.
Sakiko Fukuda Parr’s study also examined 22 Poverty Reduction Strategies, covering
17 less developed countries, two other low-income countries and three lower
middle-income countries. She found that almost all stated a commitment to the
MDGs, but that the focus was quite selective. In some respects, this mirrored
the approach of the donors (e.g., serious attention to social sector spending but
little attention to hunger and nutrition, decent work, or technology transfer).
In other respects it differed significantly (a greater focus on economic growth,
little attention to democracy, freedom of the media or human rights).
The UNDP conducted its own survey of progress towards the MDGs in 30
countries in 2009. This revealed a wide variety of situations: some countries
(generally the better off, such as Bahrain) made virtually no use of the MDGs as a
way of measuring or motivating progress, but a large number had
integrated the MDGs (or often a locally-adapted version) into their own
Indeed, the “customisation” of the MDGs is a notable feature brought out by the
study. Of the 30 countries, 10 had added or modified goals. Thus, for example,
Albania, Iraq and Mongolia had added a goal on good governance and/or
fighting corruption. Armenia, Cambodia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had included
eight or nine years education for all children as a modification of Goal 2.
And Colombia and Mongolia had added relevant national infectious diseases to
Goal 6. Fifteen countries had added, expanded or modified targets, and no
fewer than 25 had added, expanded or modified indicators, for example
to reflect national poverty lines. Such steps imply at least a measure of local
ownership of the MDGs among a wide variety of countries.
What Lessons Might Be Drawn?
The MDGs appear to have been more influential than most other attempts
at international target-setting in the field of development, at least at the level of
international discourse. After 2015, any similar set of indicators should address
issues such as rights, inequality and connectivity—and perhaps wider global
public goods. Sets of indicators such as the MDGs should not be oversold as
some sort of magic bullet to accelerate the achievement of desirable targets.
All such achievements require hard work, commitment, and financial and human
resources. But they can affect how people think, and over time that
influence may affect how people and institutions behave.
Fukuda-Parr, S. (2008). ‘Are the MDGs Priority in Development Strategies
and Aid Programmes? Only Few Are!’ IPC-IG Working Paper 48. Brasilia.
International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
Manning, R. (2010). ‘The Impact and Design of the MDGs: Some Reflections’,
IDS Bulletin 41 (1): 7-14.
UNDP (2009). Beyond the Midpoint: Accelerating Support for MDG
Achievements. New York, United Nations Development Programme.
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