Meeting (or not) the Millenium Development Goals

I’ve heard that self-help books offering recipes for success tend to highlight the importance of setting goals. (Not that I’ve ready any, of course — this is purely second hand information.) Anyway, I believe it. But does setting goals for reducing poverty for the whole world have any impact on that outcome? Hard to know. We can’t exactly re-run the history of the past decade without the millennium development goals in place. But I suppose one could experiment with invoking the goals and reporting progress on them for some campaigns and not others and see where more is accomplished? Or look at similar instances retrospectively? Perhaps donors would donate more? Or policy-makers would allocate more resources knowing they were being judged?

At the very least, setting goals and measuring progress holds actors to account. Though if the whole world is accountable… and there are no direct consequences for leadership failure, I’m not sure that we can expect too much.  Anyway, I don’t want to be too much of a skeptic, because I really sympathize with the effort, especially with the notion that goal-setting and measurement are likely to positively affect accomplishment. If the choice is between goals and no goals, I say, let them have goals.

Along those lines, I must admit I was happily surprised to read a few stories that some of the targets are actually being met! Most important, the goal to halve the number of people in extreme poverty seems to have been reached. However, given that this figure is driven mostly by China, I’m not sure that the global community can take much credit. Moreover, the goal on access to safe drinking water was actually met five years early! (See articles in the Chicago Tribune and UK Guardian) Progress on sanitation is less advanced.

2 thoughts on “Meeting (or not) the Millenium Development Goals

  1. Seems to be a worthwhile way to get everybody (unanimous agreement to proceed toward these goals at the Millennium Summit) on the same page. It gives organizations like the World Bank a yardstick to measure against. In this sense it aids in inter-actor (organizations, states, individuals) coordination. It also seems to add an additional layer of legitimacy to humanitarian efforts as they act with official UN support behind them.

    I liked your article, and I would certainly agree that, given the choice between no goals or goals, I prefer to have the goals. At least this way when multiple organizations provide statistics, there is a commonplace of reference.

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