The Millennium Development Goals and the Changing World after 2015

The successor to the MDGs need to focus on the impact on people who need help most. Photo: ADB
The successor to the MDGs need to focus on the impact on people who need help most. Photo: ADB

By Susann Roth

For many people, at least 1.7 billion people in Asia and the Pacific, opportunities from the MDGs have not yet materialized.

For the past 6 months, my work revolves around the Post 2015 development agenda, the successor of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is amazing to follow the numerous tweets, blogs, working papers, which are sprouting out daily that discuss old and new aspects of the Post 2015 development agenda. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is tracking the currently prevailing models and approaches for a Post 2015 development agenda – it was close to a 160 when I last checked! Some of them seem to be fairly in line with continuation of the MDGs while others proclaim that we need a more sophisticated agenda. Further, some ask for drastic changes in our current economic growth model and our values to address the emerging development challenges which are linked to climate change, globalization, urbanization, and the fast changing world. 

But the question is, for whom is the world changing fast? Think about it. It's for those who have opportunities, those who can take advantage of new technologies, better education and health care, jobs in a globalized economy but for many and at least 1.7 billion people in Asia and the Pacific, these opportunities, which bring change have not yet materialized. 

I had a chat recently with a young mayor of one of the northern cities of Metro Manila and asked him if his population of around 300,000, of which nearly 80% live on less than $2/day, sees change and can take advantage of the bustling economy in the Philippines. His answer was interesting, realistic but hopeful. He said his main work still evolves around trying to ensure that the basics are put in place. That his population has access to health services, to education, to water and sanitation, and to jobs. He stated that the maternal mortality rate has not improved in the last years and the employment rate is not increasing. 

But the question is, for whom is the world changing fast?

In short, he cannot see yet a trickle down effect from the economic growth that the country is experiencing. However, what he does see is a changing economic macroenvironment, a changing attitude, a decreasing fertility rate, and an investment climate for a growing private sector. He didn’t talk fancy development jargon but spoke with common sense. For him it was clear that at his level he has to get the job of the MDGs done first before he turns to more sophisticated development goals. In his view, many development investments miss to analyze what brings most for the bucks and are rather nice to have than actually addressing the most urgent issues of the poor. 

For me this validates that development not only has different paces and priorities across the region but also in the same country, which means we have to be clear in which development context we want to work in. The art is to realistically analyze the pace and pattern of development and to identify those investments, which can bring the greatest change for the 1.7 billion people who are still with less than $2/day. 

As development practitioners, we need to put impact assessments, which look at people and analyze the impact our investments actually have on them and their wellbeing, at the center of investment decisions. 

Saying this the question remains, how can we measure change and the pace of change and not lose sight of what has not changed? 

This question needs to be addressed in the Post 2015 development agenda. We need to develop goals, which focus on people, which are able to capture the change made to improved wellbeing of those most disadvantaged. 

However, this is not enough in times when we come to realize that the impact of climate change is not deniable anymore. We also must change the way we bring change!