The US gets serious on the Millennium Development Goals

August 2, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

Climate change legislation may have been blown out of the water in Congress, but Barack Obama is still moving mdg-iconsforward on reforming the chaotic US aid system (see previous posts here). On Friday the Administration released the US plan for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, ahead of the UN’s September ‘high level event’ on the MDGs. Two paras caught my eye:

“In September 2009, President Obama launched a study of U.S. development policy and will be issuing a new development policy in the near future. The policy will focus on achieving sustainable development outcomes by promoting broad‐based economic growth and democratic governance, investing in game‐changing innovations that have the potential to solve long‐standing development challenges, and building effective public sector capacity to provide basic services over the long term. The policy also puts a premium on selectivity, on leveraging the expertise and resources of others, on mutual accountability, and on evidence of impact. This new development policy will guide the U.S. approach to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The United States fully embraces the MDGs, and as we move toward the UN High‐Level Meeting to review the MDGs this September, it is critical that we take stock of what we have learned. We know that assistance, while essential, cannot bring about development in the absence of domestic policies and international flows of trade, investment, skills, and ideas that create opportunities for lasting economic growth. We must stay focused on the development outcome we seek: sustainable progress toward higher standards of living in the developing world.”

The focus on ‘building effective public sector capacity to provide basic services’ is particularly welcome – an acknowledgement of the limits of purely private provision that you don’t always hear in US aid debates.

rajiv shahYou can see the influence of the Gates Foundation, with its twin emphases on innovation and impact measurement (‘a relentless commitment to measuring results’, in the words of the MDG Strategy). Hardly surprising as the new head of USAID, Rajiv Shah (left), is a former GF high flyer. This document shows how quickly Shah and USAID have won back lost political ground from other government agencies (USAID was put in charge of developing the MDG strategy and Shah unveiled the strategy on Friday).

The document also stresses the importance of promoting ‘broad-based economic growth’ and the need to ‘invest in and empower women and girls’. Good stuff.

The Obama administration didn’t have to do this. Not many votes in it, and the global financial crisis could have provided a perfect excuse for retrenchment or delay, so kudos for some real leadership. That will hopefully invigorate the preparations for the MDG summit. For the US, the next step is finishing and publishing that overall US development strategy, which has already been leaked in draft form.

August 2, 2010
Duncan Green