From MDGs to Sustainable Development For All: Lessons from 15 Years of Practice

21 Nov 2016
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The quest of the last 15 years to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) taught us that Global Goals can motivate and help sustain leaps in human progress. It also taught us that the specifics matter. In some places, the MDGs became a widely-recognized, consistent and important driver of local progress; in others, the role and impact of the MDGs was more ambiguous. A lot depended on way the MDGs were implemented: if local change agents made them meaningful locally; if local leaders drew on their legitimacy and visibility; if they were employed to solve real-life problems etc.

The MDGs had greater impact where they captured the popular imagination, generating good-will and raising expectations. This happened when the Goals were brought into the popular discourse through national movements, local campaigns and political platforms; and where local leaders and change agents considered the MDGs, less as a rigid framework than as an opportunity to:

  • Build consensus around national development priorities;
  • Win international support and generate local buy-in;
  • Align fragmented initiatives;
  • Make the needs and contributions of communities and localities visible; and/or
  • Hold leaders to account for their commitments.

Change agents in communities and countries around the world, supported by UNDP and others, learned to leverage the MDGs to realize these outcomes. Improvements in data, partnerships, systems and institutions gradually made MDG practice more effective, responsive and coherent. This accelerated maternal and child survival, enrolment and gender parity in primary schools, lowered HIV prevalence, among other outcomes. The world cannot afford to start over with the SDGs – but must build on the improvements made under the MDGs. Many countries recognize this and are adapting existing strategies and repurposing the institutions that enabled MDG progress. Their challenge is to understand, prioritize and sustain what works and adjust initiatives that have stalled, while strengthening underlying capacities, mobilizing all possible resources and putting in motion the farsighted polices the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require. This report seeks to help them by providing key lessons from the MDG era, distilled by governments and stakeholders themselves, through National MDG Progress Reports. Between 2013 and 2015, 55 countries produced National MDG Progress Reports assessing the totality of their countries’ MDG experience. Many detail lessons they now apply to implement the SDGs. Most echo lessons UNDP learned from its experience supporting over 140 countries to achieve the MDGs.

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