Streamlining the Millennium Development Goals for More Impact

September 29, 2010
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

  • Chad Bolick

    Former Director, Global Partnership Development, BSR

In New York last week, government, civil society, and business leaders converged to assess progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and raise additional funds at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in order to meet them. Despite a still sluggish economy, CGI managed to generate an impressive US$2.5 billion in pledges from its participants. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added to this with a pledge of US$40 billion over the next five years to catapult progress toward the 2015 finish line, particularly targeting aid for women and girls. Great work, Bill!

At the halfway mark toward the deadline for meeting the MDGs in 2015, progress is being made, but it is likely that most of the goals will go unmet. For example, progress on MDG-5, which is focused on improving maternal health, has been strong, yet achievement of the goal (a two-thirds reduction in maternal mortality by 2015) is unlikely at this point.

With five years to go, it is clear that the MDGs have played a important catalytic role in reducing poverty, by providing a powerful (and previously absent) way to measure progress on many of the most important development challenges. It is equally clear that there is no overarching roadmap to get to the finish line.

In our view, three things need to be done in the final five years to optimize the impact of the Goals: (1) Develop a more holistic approach to achieving the goals, (2) Create better measurement of progress, and (3) Get business more involved.

First, a more holistic approach to progress on the MDGs is needed. At present, donor coordination around the MDGs is scattered, with donors honing in on specific topics (HIV/AIDS, girls' education, or agricultural markets) rather than the full MDGs ecosystem. Sustainable progress on the goals requires recognition of the linkages between them, i.e. steps forward on environmental protection are integrally linked to economic development. One solution might be for bilateral donors and recipients to join forces to develop coordinated action plans that address all the goals in the specific context of a single nation's needs and circumstances.

Second, better measurement is also essential. As we know from our work at BSR on return-on-investment metrics, collecting data to assess MDG progress in developing countries can be incredibly challenging given resource and capacity constraints. We need country-specific measurements, in addition to global assessments, to ensure that we stay attentive to poor results in smaller countries, even as progress in large countries creates good results. To put a fine point on it, the significant progress in China to improve maternal health risks masking a lack of progress in a country like Uganda. We need to vigilantly measure both.

Finally, the private sector can and should play an expanded role in reaching the MDGs. Even during the depths of the recession, governments and communities have looked to the private sector to generate the investment and innovation that's needed to help marginalized communities grasp new economic opportunities. And while a great deal of attention lately has been on social entrepreneurship, neither the capacity nor the conditions are present to make this the answer to massive development needs. Filling the interim gap between the present and a future ripe for entrepreneurship would be both a noble and profitable endeavor for companies—and an important development strategy.

Hopefully the first 10 years of the MDGs were the hardest. Now that the world has finally taken note of the Goals as a measure of development progress, the time is now to accelerate progress toward the 2015 deadline and ensure momentum and progress behind the goals that are met—and those that are not—continues.

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