After the MDGs, what next?

Seth Lartey

Breaking Point, a new collaboration between the Commonwealth Foundation and the United Nations Millennium Campaign, will review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and assess the effectiveness of the framework. As the 2015 deadline draws near, the question becomes: how to measure progress in a post-MDG world and balance priorities with the shift of focus from poverty to sustainable development?

The politics of development has changed sig­nificantly in the 12 years since 189 heads of state and government – from the North and the South – signed up to the Millennium Declaration at the Millennium Summit. The threat of climate change, the stalling of the Doha Development Round trade negotiations and the crises of global finance have chal­lenged the viability of neo-liberal orthodox­ies and raised questions about the ability of many countries to achieve the eight goals and twenty-one targets laid out in the declaration.

On 29 May 2012, the Commonwealth Foundation announced a groundbreaking partnership with the United Nations Millen­nium Campaign, the first with a UN agency, to collaborate on Breaking Point, a project that will review progress towards the MDGs in 20 countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Grenada, The Gambia, India, Jamaica, Ma­lawi, Mozambique, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Zambia, plus Nepal and the Philip­pines, two non-Commonwealth states. This innovative research for the first time cuts across OECD members, small island developing states, newly classified middle-income countries and donor nations.

In 2010, the Overseas Development Insti­tute in London published a list of the top ten achievers that had made absolute progress on the MDGs (i.e. countries that have seen the biggest positive change on the devel­opment indicators). Four Commonwealth countries – The Gambia, Malawi, Uganda and India – featured on this list. Further­more, Belize ranked in the top ten countries that had seen relative progress (i.e. coun­tries with the fastest rate of progress rela­tive to their starting point).

But what comes after 2015? Given the chal­lenging, complex and unpredictable context in which any post-2015 framework is likely to be negotiated, the following must be considered:

  • What are the key points of progress, set­back and missed opportunities?
  • What are the reasons some countries are continuing to perform poorly or may never satisfactorily meet all the goals?
  • How useful is the MDG framework to civil society, and how are civil society organisations relating to the framework?
  • How can we link the work of the Breaking Point project with other ongoing processes?
  • What, if anything, should follow the MDGs, and what should a new global de­velopment framework look like?

Breaking Point will address these ques­tions, and possibly many more, through extensive consultation and deliberative en­gagement with its various stakeholders, in­cluding relevant government departments, donors, international organisations, UN agencies, civil society and the private sector.

Consensus has been building among a core group of countries to shift the agenda from poverty to sustainable development. Core concerns of the MDGs – nutrition, health and education – will remain valid af­ter 2015; however, issues of sustainability, resilience and climate change are also like­ly to dominate any discussions on the post- 2015 agenda. The key challenge will be translating the framework into an effective action plan – both globally and country by country – so that progress can be measured and tracked, with appropriate benchmarks.

In all of this, however, the key question remains: How does one ensure maximum input from the voices of the poor? When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yud­hoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron to co-chair the High-Level Panel on the post-MDG framework on develop­ment, it was no doubt seen as an opportunity by many in the development community for meaningful consultations to be held at national or regional level. The appointment of the co-chairs provides a starting point for dialogue with civil society organisations which should contribute to making the dis­cussion more participatory – already there are plans to hold an informal briefing with Johnson-Sirleaf on MDG acceleration.

With the target date set for achieving the MDGs due to expire in less than three years, international civil servants, development experts, activists and government officials have already begun to raise questions about what a post-2015 development framework should look like. Regrettably, as meeting after meeting is held across the globe to dis­cuss the development agenda after 2015, the sad truth is that the poorest people might not even have a voice in the consultations.

Given its commitment to strengthening civil society participation in governance and policy debates, the Commonwealth Founda­tion is well placed and committed to bring to the development discussions additional civil society voices and perspectives. These will hail from all levels of society and all groups, including young people, women, the disabled, professionals and businesses – and particularly those from the South.

It is envisaged that the data from Break­ing Point will be placed in the broader context of current global development de­bates. Where lessons can be drawn from the research, these will be captured and documented. The research outputs will include policy recommendations that the Foundation hopes will have relevance in the various global processes, consultations and discussions focusing on the post-2015 development framework.

About the author:

Seth Lartey, Capacity Development Manager, Commonwealth Foundation


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