Do the MDGs influence national development policies?

March 31, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

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.

March 31, 2010
Duncan Green