Lessons from UN development goals

For its 70th anniversary, the UN adopted new social and economic goals for 2030, building on the successes of goals set for 2015. Expecting good results seems to be working, although Africa offers critical lessons.

President Obama looks on as workers demonstrate a packaging process at the Faffa Food factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 28. Ethiopia has lifted millions out of a poverty after a string of famines.

For its 70th anniversary this September, the United Nations once again did what it does best. It set new and even higher aspirations for humanity’s future. The General Assembly adopted 17 goals for “sustainable development” by 2030, such as “productive employment ... for all.”

This latest leap of hope builds on the successes of the anti-poverty targets set in 2000, known as the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs. That 15-year wish list was largely met. Cutting extreme poverty by half, for example, was achieved five years early.

The new goals aim to sustain this momentum despite new setbacks, such as a slowing global economy. But the key lesson of the MDGs lies in their collective ambition to set an agenda rooted in the expectation of good results for human development. By being realistic as well as relying on a consensus of all nations, the goals galvanized people to cooperate and bring resources to tackling problems long seen as intractable.

Oddly, the region of the world least successful in meeting the 2015 targets, sub-Saharan Africa, is also the most optimistic about its future, according to the Pew Research Center. The reasons may be cultural or it may be because Africa has enjoyed economic growth above the global average since 2001. But a new report by the African Union, the African Development Bank, and two UN agencies tries to assess what Africa can do differently to achieve the new goals.

The successes of sub-Saharan Africa are few but significant. Its economic growth rate per person has been higher than it has been in Asia. It reduced poverty levels from 56.5 percent in 1990 to 48.4 percent in 2010. It showed great progress in providing access to primary education, which boosted youth literacy, especially for girls.

Its two greatest successes may lay the groundwork for further progress. It has the highest growth rate in cellphone subscriptions. And it raised women’s representation in national parliaments far above other parts of the world, from 14 percent in 2000 to 22 percent in 2014.

Yet on other measures, such as child mortality, electricity usage, or access to safe water, Africa still has far to go. The report recommends addressing the root causes of poverty, not the symptom of poverty itself, and focusing on the quality of progress more than the pace of meeting new targets.

For a continent as optimistic as Africa, the UN goals helped boost the level of communication and the follow-up by governments to fulfill many of their agreements. The global body’s high expectations found a home in the region most in need of sustainable progress.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Lessons from UN development goals
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today