How to Set Goals

COPENHAGEN – At this century’s start, leaders from every country agreed to pursue the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. The ambition was to improve significantly the lot of the planet’s most disadvantaged citizens before 2015.

The intention was laudable, but 11 years on, progress in achieving the MDGs has been uneven. As decision-makers start to consider what our aspirations should be after the deadline has expired, it is worth looking back at what worked, what didn’t, and how we could do better.

The targets set by the MDGs basically amounted to a list of “things that would be good to achieve.” We have made progress on almost all of them, but not nearly enough on most. We have done reasonably well at ensuring that a child born in 2015 is likely to face fewer material burdens than his or her parents. But significant challenges and massive inequalities remain. As always, we should ask ourselves how we could ensure faster progress.

The MDGs comprised eight sweeping statements of ambition: the world decided to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality rates; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.