The MDGs are the world’s biggest
promise—a global agreement to reduce
poverty and human deprivation at
historically unprecedented rates through
collaborative multilateral action. They
differ from all other global promises for
poverty reduction in their comprehensive
nature and the systematic efforts made
to specify, finance, implement, monitor
and advocate them. While many different
ideas have influenced the “final” form
and content of the MDGs, two ideas are
central: human development and resultsbased
management. What are the lessons
from the MDG experience?
Lessons from the MDGs
Three main lessons can be drawn from
the MDGs. First, while the idea of human
development made great progress
during the 1990s, this was the result
of shifting networks and coalitions of
actors and it did not produce a robust
institutional support for the promotion
of the idea.
Human development did well, but it fell
between two stools. It did not lead to
the emergence of a self-fuelling social
movement that could consistently place
human development on the political
agenda when decisions were being taken.
The closest it came to this was with timelimited
campaigns mounted by coalitions
of non-governmental organisations and
faith-based organisations such as Jubilee
2000, Make Poverty History and ONE.
Nor did it stimulate the emergence of an
elite epistemic community (in academia,
the professions and the media) that
agreed on a narrowly defined analytical
framework and that could dominate
decision-making in key organisations—as
had the neoliberal epistemic community
in the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
the World Bank, the US Treasury and
finance ministries around the world.
Those who wish to see the idea of
human development genuinely shape
policies and resource allocations in the
future may have to put less time and
effort into refining the minutiae of the
concept and more time and effort into
how to institutionalise the idea more
fully. Could human development be
honed down and politicised in a way
that would foster the emergence of a
Alternatively, could the idea’s leading
proponents chart a route for the creation
of a tight-knit epistemic community that
might wrest control of technical advice
on public policy in the most powerful
organisations, away from neoclassical
economists with a neoliberal orientation?
A second lesson is that if the post-2015
agenda pursues a global goal-setting
approach, then the mechanisms through
which the goals relate to national
policies and politics in poorer
countries—plans, budget allocations,
medium-term expenditure frameworks,
activities, approval and accountability—
must be reformed. In the last decade this
linkage has been forged through national
poverty reduction strategies that have
been closely overseen by the IMF and
the World Bank, and that have made the
notion of “country ownership” a joke in
developing countries (Hulme, 2010a).
A soon as possible, these mechanisms
should be designed in a way that
genuinely shifts authority and
responsibility for such plans to country
governments. A corresponding cultural
change will be needed at the Bretton
Woods Institutions, especially the IMF.
Finally, those pushing for pro-poor
policies will have to distinguish between
the dramatic changes in the context for
development between 2000 and 2010
(or 2015) and the lack of change in the
“rules of the game” that determine global
public policies and actions. The context
has changed dramatically: markets are
more volatile and are reconfiguring with
the rise of China and India; populations
are ageing; climate change is under way;
technological advance continues at
unprecedented rates; and patterns of
global governance are shifting as the
G8 morphs towards a G20 (Sumner and
Tiwari, 2009). But the rules of the game
have not changed: countries that are
more economically and militarily
powerful, as well as business interests,
will continue to play a dominant role in
determining global public policies and
in delimiting the degree to which these
policies are actioned (or not actioned).
Proponents of poverty eradication can
tackle this directly by protesting about
aid, trade and debt. But in the long term
more subtle strategies will engineer
pro-poor global policies and actions.
What are needed are strategies to shift
international norms so that the citizens
of the present rich countries—North
America, Europe and other members
of the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD)—
and future rich countries—China, India,
Brazil and others—find the existence of
extreme poverty in an affluent world
morally unacceptable (see Fukuda-Parr
and Hulme, 2009, for an elaboration).
Perhaps the biggest question for the
future of the poverty eradication agenda
is: “what is that idea?” Is it human
development à la the MDGs; or is it a
revised and re-packaged version of
human development (promoting human
rights or reducing global inequality);
or has human development passed its
“sell-by” date … do we need a new idea?
Fukuda-Parr, S. and D. Hulme (2009).
‘International Norm Dynamics and “the
End of Poverty”: Understanding
the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs)’, BWPI Working Paper 96.
Manchester, University of Manchester.
Hulme, D. (forthcoming, 2010a).
Global Poverty. London, Routledge.
Hulme, D. (forthcoming, 2010b).
‘Lessons from the Making of the
Millennium Development Goals:
Human Development Meets Results-
Based Management in an Unfair World’,
IDS Bulletin 41 (1): 15-25.
Sumner, A. and M. Tiwari (2009).
After 2015: International Development
at the Crossroads. London, Palgrave.
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