Reading the MDG’s (and OWG’s and UNTT’s and HLP’S) – What do we get from this?

How are ordinary people supposed to understand the post-2015 process? How can they educate themselves about it and be active citizens?


Millennium Development Goals were originally formulated in 2000, when the UN General Assembly accepted eight concrete goals in order to reduce poverty. The goals (further on – MDG’s) did not just come out of nowhere: the process was long, and the idea was to wrap up the development issues discussed in numerous UN meetings in the late 20th century.

The end results, Millennium Declaration consisting of eight Millennium Development Goals, were accepted as a binding commitment by participating states. The attention was turned into making the world better for the very poorest people of the globe – definitely a goal easy to accept by everyone.

Looking at the development goals today, their biggest advantage has been the widespread support they enjoy worldwide. They are used as the cornerstone of development aid, they are helping in looking at wider issues instead of just measuring the delivered aid quantitatively.

However, even though the MDG’s, and related processes, have often been called the single most successful “anti-poverty push in history”, as stated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, by 2010 it became clear that even though several MDG targets will be met or are in close reach, many areas remain to be worked on. This lead to the Post-2015 development agenda.

The Post-2015 development agenda is definitely a well-meaning exercise. The highest instances of the UN are committed to it, and several high-profile initiatives have been taken – such as the High-Level Panel, or the HLP, that Ban Ki-moon put up in July 2012. Ban Ki-moon was looking for a “bold but practical” development agenda put together by the HLP consisting of experienced heads of states, business leaders and diplomats. In addition to this there are many other players in the field: such as the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Developent Agenda (UNTT), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Open Working Group (OWG), High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and many, many others.

At the same time, the Post-2015 work has been trying to reach large audiences worldwide (see also the article UN as public educator in this issue). There are several websites such as and that provide ordinary people a platform to give their views on the Post-2015 development agenda. Networks consisting of civil society activists exist in most countries, lobbying for a better way to follow the agenda.

However, after a superficial glance it has to be admitted that the process looks like a well-meaning, concrete set of ideas stuck in the swamp of way-too-many things going on at the same time. How are ordinary people supposed to understand the process and its outcomes?

Frankly, there are a few things to remember.

Firstly, the whole process is simply impossible to understand. There are way too many conferences, panels, working groups, lobbyists, speakers and reports. The nature of the work of the world’s largest multilateral organization, the UN, is such that it is very difficult to get a grip on.

It would also be a lie to say that all the work is useful and efficient. It definitely is not. Finding consensus between UN member states is slow and frustrating. The meetings often consist of long tug-of-wars regarding formulations, wording – and finally, possible financial commitments.  Trying to get acquainted with all this is indeed difficult, or how do things like  “Net ODA, total and to LDCs, as percentage of OECD/Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors’ gross national income (GNI)(OECD)” sound to you? (this one is taken directly from the goals, targets and indicators – part of the UN Millennium Project website).

Secondly, however, the Post-2015 development goals are concrete and simple. Who does not agree that eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal education, promoting gender equality, improving maternal health or ensuring environmental sustainability are not good things? Of course they are, and setting them up as ultimate goals for all development aid is definitely a good thing.

Thirdly, anyone can take part in the process. Not just via the above-mentioned web sites, but by participating in the work of the NGO’s; taking the issue to schools; and by asking stupid questions. The civil servants are there for you. We have a right to ask. For instance: the aim of putting 0,7 % of the GDP to development aid has been there for ages -but only five countries in the whole world have reached this goal. At the same time the whole world struggles with increasing flows of refugees, increasing wars and conflicts and exploding population growth. Does it ever cross the politician’s mind to see a connection between better living conditions and less wars and refugee flows?

Fourthly, there is one thing within the MDG’s that deserves extra attention. Goal number eight is called “Develop a Global Partnership for Development.”

Here we go – this is the difficult one. Simplified, this means involving businesses and global funding institutions in the work. However, if looking at concrete results, the “global partnership” – part of the Post-2015 – MDG -work remains most vague. And the truth is revealed in Ban Ki-moon’s last year’s Millennium Goal report, page 59: the amount of aid money is falling due to the global financial crisis. This could be the single most difficult issue within implementing and assessing the post-2015 development agenda – yet not discussed as loudly as it should be.  Just a curiosity: when I googled the pages of Global partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, the first hit I opened said “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t there”…

Whatever we say about Post-2015 development agenda, the truth is that if the MDG’s were not there, they should have been invented. The process is slow and frustrating, has setbacks, is filled with bureucracy and too many words versus deeds – but it is there. It brings together civil society, business and diplomacy in an unprecedented way. And it makes sense to learn more about it. Forget the abbreviations, look at the things being done. Behind the myriad of words there are serious, groundbreaking issues that concern the whole globe.

The myriad of international bodies, committees and working groups of the post-2015 process is bewildering for the ordinary citizen. / Photo: Wikipedia

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