Pump it up: children in the Central African Republic, March 2010. (Marielle Van Uitert / Flickr)
For more than a decade, the Millennium Development Goals -- a set of time-bound targets agreed on by heads of state in 2000 -- have unified, galvanized, and expanded efforts to help the world's poorest people. The overarching vision of cutting the amount of extreme poverty worldwide in half by 2015, anchored in a series of specific goals, has drawn attention and resources to otherwise forgotten issues. The MDGs have mobilized government and business leaders to donate tens of billions of dollars to life-saving tools, such as antiretroviral drugs and modern mosquito nets. The goals have promoted cooperation among public, private, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), providing a common language and bringing together disparate actors. In his 2008 address to the UN General Assembly, the philanthropist Bill Gates called the goals "the best idea for focusing the world on fighting global poverty that I have ever seen."
The goals will expire on December 31, 2015, and the debate over what should come next is now in full swing. This year, a high-level UN panel, co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, will put forward its recommendations for a new agenda. The United States and other members of the UN General Assembly will then consider these recommendations, with growing powers, such as Brazil, China, India, and Nigeria, undoubtedly playing a major role in forging any new agreement. But prior to deciding on a new framework, the world community must evaluate exactly what the MDG effort has achieved so far.
WORKING ON A DREAM
The MDGs are not a monolithic policy following a single trajectory. Ultimately, they are nothing more than goals, established by world leaders and subsequently reaffirmed on multiple occasions. The MDGs were not born with a plan, a budget, or a specific mapping out of responsibilities. Many think of the MDGs as the UN's goals, since the agreements were established at