In September 2000, the largest-ever gathering of world leaders adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration. The cornerstone of the Millennium Declaration is a global agenda of eight development goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), for cutting world poverty in half by 2015. The MDGs have been described as “the most broadly supported, comprehensive, and specific poverty reduction targets the world has ever established” and the “fulcrum” on which international development policy pivots (UN Millennium Project 2005:2-4).
In many ways, the MDGs represent an innovative approach to ending poverty worldwide. They constitute a break with business-as-usual in the formulation of international development policy and the delivery of development aid. The MDGs address extreme poverty in many dimensions, including hunger, disease, and lack of adequate shelter, while also committing nations to take action to promote gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. (See “Table 1: The Millennium Development Goals”.) The Goals condense and refocus the as-yet-unrealized anti-poverty commitments of the past several decades into an action-oriented agenda.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the MDGs is their infusion of accountability into the global campaign against poverty. The establishment of quantified, time-bound targets and measurable indicators creates a benchmark for tracking progress in reaching the Goals. The requirement for countries to produce periodic MDG progress reports introduces a modicum of transparency that has been conspicuously absent from many international processes.
If these innovative aspects of the MDGs propel them to ultimate success by 2015, the world will look quite different than it might otherwise have looked, given the disappointing development trajectory of the 1990s. Reaching the MDGs and their associated development targets would mean lifting 500 million of the world