UN Global Goals: a face-lift to the Millennium Development Goals?

This month the UN’s new global development strategy, the Global Goals, were launched. At first I was pretty convinced this was just a face-lift for the aged Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)  -– upon closer analysis, I realised I was slightly off the mark.

Development is a word with various interpretations and meanings. To put it simply, it is all about creating a universal standard of living. The UN has often seen itself as an organisation through which this can be achieved, and uses the UN Development Project, and their initiatives, as a way of creating this world.

2015 marks the “end” of the MDGs, and although vast improvements have been made global disparities remain glaring apparent. Development has not been universally achieved — and 2015 couldn’t mark an end to UN efforts to tackle the various serious global issues, which are hindering “under developed” nations.

Whats the difference?

There is one noticeable change in focus when looking at the Global Goals.  In the MDGs, the environment was the central issue in 1 out of the 8 goals (Ensure Environmental Sustainability). However in the Global Goals, the ratio has changed to 7 goals out of 17, from targets such as Sustainable Cities, Responsible Consumption to Life Below Water and Climate Action — the environment is clearly addressed.

In the final MDG report, Wu Hongbo (Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs) stated that: “Climate change and environmental degradation undermine progress achieved” — setting the stage for a renewed importance of sustainable development.

The scale of the environmental problems we face has truly become apparent in the new millennium. The MDG report stated just three of these problems -– deforestation, over exploitation of fish stocks and water scarcity — which weren’t sufficiently addressed by the MDGs. But all of these issues are covered by the Global Goals, and the whole world now needs to be engaged for successful development to be achieved.

On deeper reading however, a more refreshing form of development is becoming the norm. Throughout the Global Goals, there is a real buzz about “empowerment” for all vulnerable groups in society. Development is now more “diverse”, with “nationally appropriate social protection systems” being just one example of a way to tackle poverty.

Global goals make development no longer about dictating what must be done, but rather about encouraging countries and organisations to engage with the issues — and come up with their own solutions tailored to their own conditions.

Empowerment runs deeply through the goals; Goal 4 (Quality Education) aims to ensure “that all girls and boys complete free equitable and quality primary and secondary education,” Goal 5 (Gender Equality) aims to “enhance the use of enabling technology… to promote the empowerment of women,” Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) aims to “achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all men and women” —  and that is just a sample.

Development is moving away from statistics, to the individual. No longer is the marker of “developed education” measured on the number of girls achieving primary education, but rather on the quality of that education. The individual and the opportunity presented to them is now what matters.

Targeting the individual

That said, there is a “face-lift” element to these new measures. Global Goals are presented very differently to MDGs, with thanks to the age of social media. Click on the “What you can do” link on the Global Goals website and the first suggestion is to “Take you Global Goals Selfie and tell everyone”.

The target audience itself has become about the individual. We are encouraged to share inspiring quotes made into pretty graphics on our social media pages, to spread the message, whilst still making our profiles visually appealing. The Global Goals are designed for the youth. The online generation are encouraged to promote the goals they are passionate about and this isn’t a bad thing.

The world has changed, and not just in the problems that threaten development. The way in which we engage with the world is new, back when the MDGs were put in place social media hardly existed, but now we are all connected.

I can talk to people from all continents of the world about how to tackle the looming water scarcity crisis, with just a tap of a keyboard. The marketing around Global Goals knows this, however whether or not this is a good tactic will come down to whether the UN engages with the online community with more than pretty quotes.

Global goals are more than a face-lift to the MDGs – they’re a breath of fresh air. The goals are truly global -– they require engagement from all countries to be a success, and aim at helping all vulnerable groups in the world. There certainly are flaws -– improvements to healthcare were a major success of the MDGs, but not to such an extent that healthcare should only be central to 1 of 17 goals in the new development era.

Whether this change of approach will work can’t be predicted, but the steps are definitely being made in the right direction. The one thing to take from this is that the individual is central – empowering the vulnerable is the fundamental aim of the global goals, and I say it’s about time.

For more information visit on the Global Goals visit: http://www.globalgoals.org/