Source: United Nations

The Washington D.C chapter of Society for International Development hosted a panel discussion on the Millennium Development Goals last week. The discussion addressed the progress, or lack of, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals to date—and what could realistically be achieved before 2015 deadline.

Paul O’Brien moderated the event. O’Brien is the Vice President of Policy and Campaigns of Oxfam America, a position he’s held since November 2009. Previously, he was the Director of Oxfam’s Aid Effectiveness team. Before joining Oxfam, O’Brien spent five years in Afghanistan where he advised the Senior Economic Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, and two Minister of Finance on aid management, development planning and policy reform. O’Brien was one of the best moderators I’ve seen in a long time; he kept the panel on topic, summarized audience question to their most salient points, and pressed each side of the debate on their positions.

The panel consisted of two people, Charles Kenny and Bill Rigler. Kenny is senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation. Rigler has published articles, chapters, and books on issues including progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, what we know about the causes of economic growth, the link between economic growth and broader development, the causes of improvements in global health, the link between economic growth and happiness, the role of communications technologies in development, the “digital divide”, and corruption. Rigler is the Director of Communications at Millennium Promise.

The panel discussed both large and small themes, such as the viability of the Millennium Development Goals as the target for poverty-reduction, do we need a new political vehicle to mobilize support for poverty reduction or do the Millennium Development Goals still have political life, are we really trying hard enough to meet the Millennium Development Goals, is the USA really a leader in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, should we laser-focus on economic growth as President Obama suggests or should we continue broad aide, and why doesn’t poverty-reduction aide that improves quality of life not also improve economic growth?

My favorite part of the panel came when the two panelists debate the viability of the Millennium Development Goals as the target and political instrument for global poverty-reduction. Kenny argued that the Millennium Development Goals are not just about dollars given in aide, because while there have been valuable due to the increases in quality of life measurements (increased life expectancy, increased literacy, etc) we haven’t seen a correlating rise in GDP per capita (a measure of economic growth). Kenny argued that the issue was that aide for addressing Millennium Development Goals addresses supply issues (a lack of schools, a lack of roads) whereas current problems are demand issues (parents don’t send their kids to school because they don’t think school is important for their children). Because the current problems are demand issues this impedes progress on the Millennium Development—which can make nations feel like failures even though they’ve made amazing progress over the last ten years.
Rigler echoed Kenny’s sentiment that amazing things had been achieved due to the Millennium Development Goals. He also argued that the Millennium Development Goals focused global attention to other development goals and removed the “false choice” from foreign assistance. He argued that previous to the Millennium Development Goals, donors thought they had to choose between aide for malaria prevention, aide for education, and so on, but with the Millennium Development Goals these problems could be addressed holistically and in a mutually-reinforcing manner.  Rigler also pointed to last month’s Millennium Development Goals Summit meeting in New York City that the Millennium Development Goals still resonant politically. He further argued that Prime Minister Cameron’s cabinet is massively cutting back the budget, but hasn’t touched the United Kingdom’s foreign assistance budget as proof that there is real commitment towards meeting the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals.