Tuesday, April 04, 2006

What's the Point?

Over at the Center for Global Development they are once more talking about how the MDGs are a terrible idea because "it is already clear that these fantastically utopian goals will label many development successes as failures."

The Center is a great place full of some of the best minds on development issues. Their willingness to challenge the status quo thinking in the development community is also crucial given our tendency towards group think. Niceties aside though, their constant attack on the MDGs is worrisome.

First, the MDGs "deadline" is over 9 years away. Yet a generation ago a committed United States was able to place a man on the moon – another "unreachable" challenge – in 8 years! The challenges we face in achieving them should not be minimized. We cannot put food into 800 million empty stomachs over night. The schools, books, and will needed to get 100 million children into school won't materialize one morning. But for those who support building a stronger, safer world (from heads of think tanks to those who volunteer their evenings), rather than spending our influence to bury the Goals we should focus that energy on getting one more village clean water or protecting a child from malaria.

Another important role of the MDGs is to remind us of the inter-relation of these diverse Goals. Ensuring everyone has clean water is linked to reducing child mortality for the millions of families who lose a child to dehydration. And we know that helping little girls go to school is important to improving maternal health.

But what about the danger that we will fail to achieve them? After Britains recent failure to reach its child poverty reduction targets, the Education Minister Margaret Hodge responded not with despair but by saying "Of course we've got to constantly renew our thinking. Of course we've got to redouble our efforts." If in 2015 the Senegalese has not succeeded getting every one of their children through primary school do you think they will abolish their education department?

Likely they will respond as Ms. Hodge: "But you - three or four years ago - probably would never have thought we'd get this far. And we've set ourselves deliberately tough targets so that we really do drive forward policy and have a real change for children and their families."

The MDGs are hard! But only by challenging ourselves can we hope to create the change and innovation needed to liberate a billion people from poverty.


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