Millennium Development Goals

Remarks by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund
At the International Policy Dialogue: Millennium Development Goals
Berlin, 28 June 2002

Setting ambitious development goals has been a long tradition in the United Nations starting decades before the Millennium Summit.

However, except for a few spectacular successes like the eradication of smallpox, the record of seriously pursuing and achieving such goals has generally been rather patchy.

How can we make sure that the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals will be different? That it will be genuinely serious and successful?

In this era of so many major international conferences and Summits, how can we overcome the widespread cynicism that at the U.N. goals are ever set but never met? Do we know what are the key ingredients for successful pursuit of ambitious development goals?

I would like to share with you today UNICEF’s relatively successful goal-oriented approach to development and some of the lessons learned from our experience. A basic conclusion of this experience is that popular understanding and public support of the goals – the topic of our session today – are the essential ingredients for success.

[To put all of this in some context, perhaps a brief review of past experiences in setting and pursuing development goals might be useful.

The first systematic attempt at setting international development goals was made in the 1960s when the UN declared the first development decade. It established such goals as increasing GDP by 5% per year and accelerating elimination of hunger, disease and illiteracy.

The second development decade introduced the target of increased ODA flow of 1% of GNP of donor countries, and the goals of universal primary enrolment by 1990 and a world-wide effort to eradicate one or more diseases.

The third development decade got even more specific and introduced goals of reducing infant mortality, increasing life expectancy, providing safe water and sanitation, etc.

Although such goal-setting had some merit, and some goals were partially achieved, so many other goals were ever set but never met, that the whole idea of a fourth development decade with specific goals was dumped in the 1990s.]

In the ocean of many unreached goals of the UN’s development decades, there have been a few islands of shining success.  Among the goals that were pursued with some success in the 1980s were those concerning child survival and development, in particular, immunisation.

Encouraged by some of these successes, UNICEF helped convene the 1990 World Summit for Children which became the standard-setter for a goal-oriented approach to development, subsequently emulated by  the major UN conferences and summits of the 1990s. In fact, the genesis of many of the Millennium Development Goals can be traced back to the World Summit for Children via Rio, Cairo, Copenhagen and Beijing Conferences that followed.

It is often said that of all the major UN conferences and summits of the 1990s, the World Summit for Children was perhaps the most systematically followed-up and rigorously monitored.  There were regular annual reports to the UNICEF Executive Board and periodic reports, including a mid-decade report presented to the General Assembly summarising key achievements, setbacks and trends.

In preparation for the May 2002 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children,  a massive end-decade review was conducted. The outcome of this review is the Secretary-General’s report entitled “We the Children…” and its statistical annex. It contains some valuable lessons, derived from some spectacular successes and some heart-wrenching setbacks, which might be of relevance in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

In the words of the Secretary-General’s report, perhaps the most important lesson of the last decade was this: “that it is not enough for leaders to promise something, even when the resources are available to back it up, unless the whole of society is mobilised to achieve the goal.  The most striking advances towards the goals of the World Summit for Children-first in immunisation, then in polio eradication, salt iodination, vitamin A supplementation, guinea worm eradication and, in some regions, school enrolment-were achieved through this strong combination of strong partnership and sustained political commitment, involving the broadest possible range of people.”

In today’s world, actions by governments alone cannot achieve ambitious goals.  The key to success lies in generating popular understanding and public support of development goals so that leaders see that it is good politics to pursue such goals whether the government is democratic or autocratic.

We at UNICEF have found that taking a goal-focused approach to social outcomes within a broader framework of human rights can be particularly powerful in mobilising countries, institutions and people into action.

More specifically, there seem to be 7 key ingredients to successful implementation of ambitious development goals.

1. Articulate the grand vision of the Millennium Summit in terms of specific, measurable goals. This has already been done in crafting the MDGs. Most of the MDG’s are inspiring, memorable and measurable. The Millennium campaign must help make them even more understandable, not just to development professionals but to ordinary people. Fuzzily formulated goals with such broad objectives as “promoting sustainable development” or “education for all” or “protecting human rights” are difficult to monitor and therefore not particularly helpful. Such broad aims need to be transformed into more concrete goals, such as reducing infant mortality by a certain percentage, increasing adult literacy to a certain level, eradicating a dreaded disease, etc. A judicious balance must be kept between setting targets that are challenging and yet realistic.

2. Breakdown the MDGs into intermediate, subnational goals. To be effective national (or international) development goals need to be translated into specific actions that can be taken at the sub-national, community or even family level. Long term goals are important  to generate a broad direction for national development, but not very helpful to ensure accountability of today’s leaders. We must find ways to breakdown the 2015 MDGs into intermediate goals and targets that are achievable within the mandate of the current political leadership, before the next election or the next coup d’etat.

In this regard, I would strongly recommend that the goals and targets for 2010 agreed at the Special Session on Children be considered as helpful stepping stones for the MDGs. Even these goals may need to be broken down into 3 to 5 year time frames, if today’s political leaders are to be held accountable for practical results.

For example, to achieve the under-5 mortality goal, it is important to identify the major causes of such mortality and take action against those causes. Increasing childhood immunisation, controlling diarrhoeal diseases or respiratory infections, promoting breastfeeding, combating malaria or malnutrition – all by specific target dates and bench-mark indicators – would be among the most effective interventions to reduce U5MR. Similarly time-bound programmes to promote female literacy, girls education, and reproductive health care are essential measures to achieve the MDG of reducing maternal mortality.

3. The process to achieve goals is as important as the end results. A goals-oriented approach should not neglect participatory processes. Many examples show that only a genuinely participatory approach can ensure sustainable achievements. Moreover, a human rights approach to development requires that development goals be pursued with the informed knowledge, voluntary consent and enthusiastic participation of people whose rights and well-being ought to be at the heart of human development.

4. Generate and sustain political commitment. Many development programmes are expressed in such technical terms as to be understood only by specialists. We have a challenge to demystify the MDG targets and  indicators by presenting them in the simplest possible terms understandable by local leaders and citizen activists. The MDGs need to be widely known and accepted. Their time-bound targets should serve as focal point for management by objectives, as a rallying point for public awareness and for maintaining the necessary political pressure. Public interest must be awakened and nurtured; ambition must be stirred; expectation must be aroused; and commitments from all possible sources of support must be secured and sustained.
5. Ownership, partnership and participation matter a great deal. Countries and communities should have the ownership of the goals. That requires flexibility in adapting them to their own reality. It also requires the mobilisation of  movements and alliances in favour of goals at the local as well at the global level. These alliances must involve partnership with NGOs, the private sector, the media, religious leaders and community activists, complementing the efforts of  governments and international organisations. More ‘ownership’ will also require less ‘donor-ship’. Mechanisms such as sector-wide approaches are proving useful in this regard.
6.  Institute public monitoring and accountability: A goal-focused approach must ensure constant monitoring. To effectively accelerate progress or take corrective action, monitoring must not be confined to expert analysis. It must involve and inform political leaders and the media, NGO activists and participating communities. Publicising progress – or lack thereof – by using indicators that the public can understand, is essential for successful goal-oriented approaches. Generating healthy competition by comparing the performance of neighbouring districts or countries can also be a great catalyst for progress. Monitoring information should go beyond general averages and be disaggregated by gender, age, and socio-economic groups, and geographical areas and other relevant categories in order to detect discrimination. The monitoring and reporting system of the MDGs should be designed to provoke public debate, including in parliaments and local assemblies.
7. Finally, a balance must be kept between output and input targets. Results require resources. Although outcome goals should be the focus of action, these goals carry a price tag. Thus, input goals are necessary too. Two familiar input targets are the 0.7 per cent ODA/GNP ratio and the 20/20 target, which sets an indicative allocation figure for national budgets and ODA in order to achieve universal access to basic social services. Actual performance on both input goals leaves considerable room for improvement.

The documented experience of countries that have drastically reduced poverty within a single generation, shows that with strong political commitment, appropriate public action and genuine community participation, most of the Millennium Development Goals are indeed achievable. I submit that attention to these 7 ingredients will help us greatly in the successful pursuit of the MDGs.

It is simply inadmissible that in a $30 trillion global economy, which produces a billionaire every 2 weeks, that the modest goal of halving poverty – and that too at the level of a dollar-a-day — in a span of 25 years – is considered too ambitious.

If we are to generate public support and action, the MDGs must be presented to the public in a manner that capture their hearts and minds. And nothing captures people’s attention better than the concern for their children. It is after all the survival, protection and development of their children to their fullest human potential that is the universally shared aspiration of all parents. Let us therefore invoke the cause of children to promote the millennium development goals. Ultimately the MDGs cannot have a better purpose than creating a world fit for children.