What should replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals?

International Alert has called for a radically different approach to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in our written submission to the UK’s International Development Committee (IDC).

We outline why the MDGs haven’t worked well from a peacebuilding perspective and suggest a more appropriate model for post-2015. ‘If the post-2015 framework is to deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, radically different is what it must be,’ it reads.

The submission is in response to an IDC inquiry on post-2015 development goals and is part of our continued work on the topic. This includes coordinating global civil society’s policy input into the UN’s thematic consultation on how post-2015 goals relate to conflict and disaster as part of the Beyond 2015 coalition. (Read our response to Bringing the peace into the post-2015 development framework here).

The IDC is a committee of UK MPs which examines the expenditure, administration and policy of the UK’s overseas development aid programme.

Here is a summary of the recommendations we submitted:

Experience in conflict-affected and fragile countries, where over 1.5 billion people live and where there are the greatest levels of poverty and least progress towards the MDGs, suggests that the post-2015 development framework must meet the following principles:

  • Development, not aid: concerned with sustainable development progress, not just aid.
  • Comprehensive: covering all the issues that, taken together, comprise development progress.
  • Universality and subsidiarity: applying to all countries equally, but with strategies defined, goals and indicators set, and progress measured by the least centralised authority able to do so.
  • Democracy-enhancing: enhancing accountability by governments to their citizens, and international organisations to their member states.
  • Overarching values: explicitly restating a commitment to the fulfilment of equal human rights.
  • Politically aware: getting a viable balance between technical and political sides of development.
  • Context as the starting point: with goals and strategies based on a full analysis of the context, and priorities devised to suit the national, regional or local realities.
  • Conflict-sensitivity: recognising that development processes have an impact on conflicts, and designing them to minimise the risk of violence and maximise progress towards peace.

A framework that we think can express these principles would work as follows:

1. A globally agreed vision sets out in broad terms what a more “sustainably developed” world might look like – an overarching vision of human progress, as the Millennium Declaration was. This global vision does not contain quantifiable targets but provides guidance so individual states, regional organisations and other actors can set their appropriate goals, targets and indicators. It enshrines human rights and emphasises the need to make progress towards a situation in which people everywhere:

i. have access to justice and equality before the law
ii. participate in decisions which affect their lives, and live in supportive communities
iii. are safe and secure
iv. have access to economic opportunities
v. improve and maintain their physical and psychological health, levels of education, decent shelter and other aspects of personal and family wellbeing.

2. To make progress towards realising this vision, the main unit of planning, monitoring and evaluation is and remains the nation state. Here, context-specific goals and strategies would be set according to the political cycle and other realities of the context. As far as possible, plans would be developed and implemented in a participatory way and would be designed to enable the local initiatives which remain critical for development progress. As each government finds appropriate and as opportunity offers, goal-setting and strategies for implementation would be taken up within regional organisations – the African Union, ASEAN, the EU and so on. Each national plan would explicitly express the overarching vision.

3. Further partners are to be found in international entities such as inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) and large multinational companies (MNCs). The IGOs would define their own strategies and goals, each according to its mandate, linking them to the international framework and to national strategies as appropriate. The MNCs would also be encouraged to show how they plan to contribute.

This framework is radically different from the approach based on targets and indicators that are neither comprehensive nor universal in the current MDGs. If the post-2015 framework is to deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, radically different is what it must be.

To find out more about the UN's debate on MDGs, read this account by our Senior Policy Advisor Chris Underwood on his recent trip to the UN General Assembly in New York.