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March 31, 2010

Whatever happened to Robin Hood? Update on the Financial Transaction Tax

March 31, 2010

Do the MDGs influence national development policies?

March 31, 2010
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Expect a lot of soul searching around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this year, in the run up to the UN high level event in September (see previous posts here and here). A recent issue of the IDS bulletin covered ‘The MDGs and Beyond’. The piece that caught my eye was an analysis of national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) by Sakiko Fukuda-Parr (former director of the Human Development Report, now an academic at the New School in New York).

Fukuda-Parr wanted to find out if all those international conferences and agreements exercise mdg-iconsreal traction over what matters, what governments do and say? To do this she analysed the PRSPs of 22 countries, and the aid policies of 21 bilateral donors (to see if they took the MDGs seriously too). Her findings?

‘The analysis found a high degree of commitment to MDGs as a whole but both PRSPs and donor statements are selective, consistently emphasising income poverty and social investments for education, health and water but not other targets concerned with empowerment and inclusion of the most vulnerable such as gender violence or women’s political representation.

The strategy in the majority of the PRSPs focus on economic growth and investment in the social sectors and reflect an assumption that ‘trickledown’ would achieve the poverty reduction objectives of the MDG agenda. Most did not contain a strategy for ‘pro-poor growth’ and pro-poor social investments. Nor do they contain strategies of building democratic governance – creating an environment to empower the poor and addressing institutionalised obstacles to their participation in economic, social and political life.’

Fukuda Parr argues that ‘a new, ninth Goal needs to be added – to reduce inequality’, though I’m not convinced that this can be done in any easily communicable way – the paraphernalia of gini indices etc is much harder to convey than ‘halve world poverty’ or ‘get all kids into primary school’.

What do I take from this? That a process of dilution and selection inevitably kicks in, from the original UN Millennium Declaration to the choice of targets for the MDGs, from those targets into what is picked up in the policies of donors and national governments and then (going beyond what Fakuda-Parr was examining), how those national policy statements are themselves implemented on the ground. What finally results may bear little resemblance to the original global declaration.

But the findings were more encouraging than I’d expected – I’ve always suspected that the MDGs meant more to donors than to developing countries, but the goals, a bit like the PRSP process itself, have become to some degree owned (and adapted – lots of PRSPs have morphed into national development plans, and countries have added extra goals to the MDG core list) and look like they’ve had a real, though partial, impact.


  1. Some interesting analytical work by Sanjay Reddy, also now at the New School, on the gap between technocratic aspiration and implementation on the MDGs: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=802804

    The point on PRSPs and national development strategies is well-taken, regardless of the infinite critique of international development goals. Afghanistan for instance took on many of the MDGs in its National Development Strategy, but piled in many more specific targets. E.g., to connect 50% of households in Kabul and 30% of households in other urban areas to piped water as well as 90% of villages to drinking water and 50% to sanitation by 2013.

    Interestingly, on the standard MDG envelope, the Government of Afghanistan agreed to give themselves an extra fiver to meet the targets by 2020. They alsp added a 9th Goal on Enhancing security. Targets include, to be met by 2010 (!): Reforming and professionalizing Army (key indicator: dropping Military Expenditure from 17% in 2005 to 3-5%); and reducing contribution of opium to the total economy from 50% in 2005 to less than 10% by 2015 and 5% by 2020.

    This is the only case I’m aware of that a country elected to shape the MDGs to their own development conditions. Know of any others?

    The question will also stand: What targets were really given to ensure Goal 8 was ever fulfilled, in quantitative and qualitative terms, for donors?

    PS I do believe it is Fukuda-Parr, not Fakuda-Parr.

    Duncan: thanks for correcting the typo – blame it on excessively early morning blogging…..

  2. Online debate on India-Brazil- South Africa (IBSA) Policy Dialogue Forum
    In partnership with the Ideas for Development blog, the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) is launching an online debate that will contribute with inputs for the forthcoming IBSA Academic Forum, which will be hosted by IPC-IG on 12-13 April in Brasilia, Brazil.
    We invite you to participate in this discussion and reflect about the following issues:
    – What is the role of the emerging countries in shaping world politics?

    – How can India, Brazil and South Africa strengthen cooperation in key issues on the global agenda?

    – In which ways an improved policy dialogue among developing countries can contribute to the implementation of effective policies towards the achievement of inclusive growth and human development?

    Join us at: http://www.ideas4development.org

    We also invite you to visit the IBSA Academic Forum website, where you can find interesting papers, resources and breaking news. Visit: http://www.ipc-undp.org/ibsa

  3. Duncan,

    I believe the first and second of the MDG’s are the ground breaking ones. They ( #1 and #2 MDG) can promote the other six MDGs which will come naturally into places in each country according to its own values and culture as each nation sort their way into MDG’s 1 and 2. Schools are the world’s best meeting place to not only to educate families, but to feed, unite, change, organize, integrate, socialize etc…

    Fed and educated people can take good care of themselves and their kids and fight for their rights accordingly. They are stronger to solve their own food and health demands and less vulnerable in general…

    Adding an extra 9 is totally unnecessary as I believe the MDGs should be reduced and have more focus!



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