The World We Want: From MDGs to Sustainable Development

Last month the United Nations released their final report on the Millennium Development Goals. The report summarizes 15 years of progress initiated by these goals, which were created at the turn of the century as a way to use the collective strength and resources of nations to address 8 areas in need of improvement across the globe. In an amazing demonstration of the capabilities of targeted efforts and teamwork, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 provides us with both a reason to cheer and motivation to continue bettering our world.

What are the MDGs?

Fighting poverty was the overarching goal when leaders met in 2000 and developed the eight Millennium Development Goals that would guide efforts for the next 15 years. The eight goals encompass the many faces of poverty and its implications, and are applicable to every nation.


Reading through the report you will see that progress has been made toward achieving each goal’s sub-targets (i.e. Target 1.A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day). Below are highlights from the report that really struck me as incredible, but you can always refer to the report itself for more information. Each figure is comparing data between ~1990 and 2015 unless otherwise noted.

  • The proportion of workers living in extreme poverty (< $1.25/day) has fallen from 52% to 11% (18).
  • In 1990, the global number for out-of-school children was 104 million; in 2015 that number has decreased to 57 million (25).
  • The mortality rate for children under five has decreased 53% (32).
  • Globally, the maternal mortality rate has decreased 45% (38).
  • In 2003, just 375,000 people were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDs; that number rose to 13.6 million globally by mid-2014 (46).
  • Between 2000 and 2015, the global incidence rate of malaria fell by 37%, helping avert an estimated 6.2 million deaths (47).
  • Ozone depleting substances have been virtually eliminated, and the ozone layer is expected to recover by mid-century (54).
  • Access to improved drinking water sources grew from 15%, from 76 to 91 percent (58).
  • Imports from developing countries, especially from least developed countries, continue to receive preferential treatment from developed countries through lower tariffs and duty-free status (64).

We’re Not Finished Yet

The progress made in the last 15 years is astounding. However, the UN and international development experts agree, there is a lot of work yet to be done to ensure all the goals are met in their entirety and across the globe. Here, it is important to note that progress has not been equally distributed. On the general global scale many targets have been realized, but depending on several factors such as location and income, some people may not be benefitting from the progress. This is true to every goal in one way or another. Recognizing these disparities and acting to fix them is a priority, but it’ll require additional concerted efforts to solve the problems.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 provides us with both a reason to cheer and motivation to continue bettering our world.”

Based on your own knowledge, you may have already realized that not every goal has touched everyone equally, if at all. For instance, we know that many displaced persons are suffering from hunger and poverty, particularly in areas with ongoing crises like Syria. Malala Yousafzai has shined a light on the inequity when it comes to ensuring primary education for all children (I’m personally very hopeful that rapid progress will be made here with Malala on the job). We have come SO FAR, but we have farther to go.

What’s Next?

The timeline for the MDGs expires this year, so world leaders are back to the drawing board to discuss the next world development goals in the form of the Sustainable Development Agenda. This agenda features an increased number of agreed upon goals, 17 in total, but their sub-targets are still up for negotiation. This new plan incorporates the 8 MDGs goals both directly and indirectly, an acknowledgement that the work is not yet finished.

This week, the third Financing for Development Conference concluded in Addis Ababa. After months of negotiations, countries reached an agreement that will fund the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the future. Reactions to the agreement have been swift and varied; I encourage you to read different perspectives on it and to check out #FFD3 on Twitter for a look at what people are saying. The next step will be taken in September when nations will meet to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals. This will be an enormously important act in shaping the future of the world.

I Want to Help!

Join the club! No, seriously. There are organizations out there dedicated to providing input to the United Nations on people’s priorities. Among these groups, action/2015 and The World We Want stand out (so much so that the UN recommends them as a way to get involved in this process!). And before you worry that your voice won’t matter, hear this: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has put a strong emphasis on having inclusive processes for collecting input about the development of these goals and other programs. He has a particular interest in mobilizing young people to care, too, so take that as an invitation to dive right into the process!

A great and simple way to start your involvement if you’re not ready to take the plunge is to head over to the MyWorld Survey and tell the UN what your top priorities are. Once you submit your survey and a little demographics information, you’ll get to watch a video of UN representatives, Ban included, applauding your choices and your passion. Honestly, it’s a really cool thing to see, and I felt pretty proud of myself. You can even share your customized video on social media so people know what you care about and can get involved, too.

Most importantly, keep up to date on what is happening with the SDGs. There are a number of ways to do that: follow the United Nations and its affiliate accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and visit their websites often. I’ll include links to a couple of sites below.

This is an exciting time for the world. After achieving so much in the past decade and a half, we know that we are capable of making people’s lives better. Let’s not lose that momentum and continue to strive for excellence. Every single person has a role to play in accomplishment of these goals, and we need commitment from ALL of you.

In the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “2015 is not just another year; it is a chance to change the course of history.”

Additional links:

About The Author

HebaHeba is a recent college graduate trying to find ways to better her local and global communities. An aspiring modern freedom fighter, Heba hopes to work at an international level to help solve human rights crises, to restore peace to conflict-ridden areas of the world, and to prevent future conflicts from arising.

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