Defeating poverty is not a hopeless cause

  • Tony Blair, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Oct 03, 2015 01:30 IST
Part of the challenge in setting effective SDG targets lies in learning the lessons of the last 15 years of MDGs (AFP File Photo)

To those who claim that conventional politics does not bring change, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted by the United Nations 15 years ago, are a powerful riposte. Not everything contained in the MDGs has been achieved, but huge progress was made: Millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, maternal mortality has been reduced by almost half, and millions of children are now in school.

As the world moves from the MDGs to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the challenge is to make global goal-setting more effective, in part by learning the lessons of the last 15 years.

A concerted effort to strengthen government capacity and efficiency would be an excellent complement to the SDGs. But it should be carried out with a practical eye.

First, we need to appreciate that there is a cost to multitasking. The SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets. But governments in developing countries must be allowed to prioritise them.

In Sierra Leone, for example, the post-Ebola recovery plan emphasises energy, agriculture, and health. The international community should support the government in these areas, rather than pressing it to work on all 17 SDGs right from the start.

Second, having a well-formulated development agenda is not enough; leaders need a way to turn goals into plans and ensure that they stay on course. This operational focus is often absent from the debate.

Third, the scale of the SDGs demands financing of around $11.5 trillion per year (Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP is around $2 trillion). Clearly, we need a wider concept of the finance and policies required to support development.

The developed world has a responsibility, beyond giving aid: It needs to reduce barriers to trade; to the diffusion of knowledge and innovation; and to migration.

The real key is to expand the domestic resources available to governments in developing countries. Attracting investment to stimulate economic growth will create jobs and income, which in turn will increase tax revenues.

All of this will require new partnerships and more collaboration across borders. It will involve sharing ideas, forming alliances, and accepting that practicality should trump ideology. New thinking will be important, but the global marketplace already offers an abundance of ideas to tap.

Fortunately, unlike 15 years ago, technology can revolutionise the delivery of services. This has already begun to happen.

The lesson of the past 15 years is that defeating world poverty is not a hopeless cause. In the years to come, the SDGs can move the world further towards success, especially if these new goals are helped by a rigorous effort to strengthen governments’ ability to achieve them.

Tony Blair is former British prime minister

Copyright: Project Syndicate

The views expressed are personal

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