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Meeting Goals - Does it Matter?

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07 June 2012

Does it matter if we don't reach the Goals?

by Amanda Jackson

Is the goal to halve extreme poverty in a generation aspirational or could we really expect to make it reality? Our answer makes a difference. Aspiration means we expect to “fail” but expectation means we can and should see 700 million children, women and men freed from grinding need.

Some goals are aspirational – no child should live in poverty, all men are created equal, I will not lose my temper with my kids. We aim high and we commit our energies to the vision but, knowing that we are fallible (or sinful), we are not surprised when we fall short.

So what about the goal to halve extreme poverty in a generation? Is that aspirational or could we really expect to make it reality? Our answer makes a difference. Aspiration means we expect to “fail” but expectation means we can and should see 700 million children, women and men freed from grinding need.

When I googled ‘meeting the MDGs’, most comments from “ordinary” people were fatalistic, even cynical. And they may have cause: most donor nations are falling behind on their aid promises. Last week Australia became the latest G20 nation to excuse itself from its commitment. Ben Thurley, the Political Engagement Co-ordinator for Micah Challenge Australia, explained the decision explicitly in his blog, “The Government broke its promise. It will not increase aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015. Instead, it has decided to defer that commitment by one year …… In order to save $2.9 billion over four years, the Government has chosen to break a promise it made to the Australian public and to the world's poor.”

Most official reports still hold out realistic hopes that money + effort + global cooperation could equal success in 2015, but decisions like Australia’s create more pressure. It remains to be seen what the new French President will do or what the next Dutch or American governments will decide after their elections.

Progress on the 8 Goals is patchy and depends on where you live BUT there is blue sky. Global poverty reduction (Goal1) is on track mainly due to economic growth in India and China. The number of child deaths is decreasing (Goal 4) due in large part to measles immunization. Deaths from malaria are down by 20% in the last decade and in 11 African nations, deaths are down 50%. In the last 20 years, 1.8 billion people have gained access to clean water (Goal 7).

So lots to celebrate but lots of risks – women and girls are missing out on maternal care, education and employment (Goals 3, 5); sanitation and urban poverty need urgent action (Goal 7) and structural issues like trade and equity in development (Goal 8) need much more attention. We have to keep our efforts at 100% from now till 2015. We must not allow economic circumstances, cynicism or apathy to take hold.

Be inspired by the persistence of the man who engineered the Brooklyn Bridge in 1870s New York, Washington Roebling. He wanted to make his father’s dream of a steel bridge across the East River a reality but only a few months into the project he was severely injured on site, and left unable to walk or talk. The project seemed doomed but Roebling remained positive. He painstakingly developed a system of communication with his wife, moving just one finger. For 13 years he used this method until the bridge was completed.

This amazing tenacity was matched by Roebling’s wife who learned bridge construction and took on day-to-day project management of the job. At the risk of sounding like a self-help guru, I think we need that tenacity when it comes to the MDGs.

We also need to maintain effort because our attitudes and achievements will affect global development ideas after 2015. The first steps are being taken now and in the Rio+20 meeting next month, development goals and what to do post-MDGs will be burning issues.

A recent blog in the Guardian newspaper’s Poverty Matters section has stated that any new development goals and the process leading to them must emphasise national ownership and public participation – including participation from the poor - and focus on sustainability, equity and reaching the poorest. There is concern that development should not be a synonym for unfettered economic growth.

These are all good ideas but a long way from goals we can work for and measure. Experts, think-tanks, politicians, business and development professionals are already jockeying to come up with specifics. Meanwhile, we have 3.5 short years to reach the Millennium Development Goals. Let’s keep focused on meeting them rather than making excuses or moving on to the next goals without holding ourselves to account for the promise made in 2000, “We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.” (Millennium Declaration)

Deuteronomy 58:10-11 tells us clearly, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.”

The Millennium Development Goals require motivation, planning and dedication from all of us. If they stretch us and change us, that is a good thing.


If people bring up arguments against generosity in hard times, if they are cynical about poverty, give them the facts – it is still possible to halve global poverty.

If you are voting this year for a new national government, ask your candidates what their policies are to meet the MDGs. Ask them to back measures in their party to “spare no effort” to reach the targets.

Read about the Rio+20 meeting happening next month and keep aware of the decisions (or lack of them).

Read their follow up report here

Amanda Jackson, Head of Advpcay and Campaigns, Micah Challenge