Rethinking progress: A new development paradigm and goals for critical global challenges

2 August 2011 Mukesh Kapila

As the MDG 2015 deadline looms closer, could we not aspire to do more, do better and reach further, by shaping a new development model for post-2015? What would that be and what should the next generation of development goals look like?

Does anyone still remember the excitement of starting the new Millennium? And does anyone still remember the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight international development goals that all United Nations member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015? Promising to tackle pressing issues such as extreme poverty, child mortality and disease epidemics, the MDGs exemplified the hopes and aspirations of a generation. 

To be sure there has been much progress in development over the past decade. Never before have we had so much knowledge, developed such amazing technologies, been better inter-connected, and accumulated so many assets and capabilities. We now have more overweight people than hungry ones. There are more children in school than there are on the streets or later in unemployment queues. Fewer are dying of measles and malaria even if greater numbers perish from road traffic accidents, suicide, and heart disease. Gender equality is steadily improving even though one in three females still suffers violence in her lifetime. More people have more money even as more and bigger disasters wipe out others’ precious savings and livelihoods. Foreign aid givers and philanthropists are generous as never before, even as greater amounts go on modernising nuclear arsenals. More international agreements and partnerships are being signed-off, even as more and more question the fitness of our global institutions and the integrity of our leaders.

But as the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu once warned, “if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”. So is it, therefore, a good idea to keep following the same path in a fast-changing world where large risks and complex vulnerabilities are paralleled by great expectations and unprecedented opportunities? It is clear that the world needs vision and strong leadership like never before. And any future development model must move us away from a paternalistic view of development as the production line for well-functioning human machines to one that reaches out to bring hope to the despondent, courage to the weak, justice to the wronged, and healing to the hurt. This view of development is certainly not about unproductive welfare dependency. It is about enabling everyone to take responsibility to lead productive and creative lives with dignity, and to realise their rights while fulfilling their obligations to relate respectfully to others. Such development is sustainable only if achieved through the responsible use of resources to create and share wealth fairly so that everyone’s reasonable current needs are met without compromising the needs of future generations.       

Arising out of such a paradigm, future development goals must be truly global – applying to poor and rich countries alike – each aspiring to minimum norms and standards for our common humanity, while leaving space for nations to take responsibility by setting their own targets based on the needs and aspirations of their people within their own contexts.  As we often get only what we measure, indicators must be carefully selected to assess results with objectivity. Disaggregation by gender, urban/rural, identity groups, and income bands would go some way to unmask the inequalities that hide behind generalised statistics.

The new development paradigm and goals should not, of course, be handed down from above. We should ask those most affected to say what life they want to live and how they want to be enabled to live it.

A new system of accountability will need to accompany the new paradigm, placing the poor, vulnerable, and marginalised at the centre of the policy and practice considerations that shape their lives. We must also strive to regain transparency and trust in our institutions, both nationally and internationally.

A future architecture of 12 goals, clustered into three categories, is proposed.  Framed deliberately in positive terms, the first set of four development goals are about the essential endowments necessary for individuals to achieve their fuller potential.

  • Goal 1: Adequate livelihoods and income levels for dignified human existence.
  • Goal 2: Sufficient food and water for active living.
  • Goal 3: Appropriate education and skills for productive participation in society.
  • Goal 4: Good health for the best possible physical and mental well-being.

The second set of four goals are concerned with protecting and promoting collective human capital.

  • Goal 5: Gender equality for enabling males and females to participate and benefit equally in society.
  • Goal 6: Security for ensuring freedom from violence.
  • Goal 7: Resilient communities and nations for reduced disaster impact from natural and technological hazards.     
  • Goal 8: Connectivity for access to essential information, services, and opportunities.   

The third set of four goals deal with the effective provision of global public goods:    

  • Goal   9:   Empowerment of people for realising their civil and political rights.
  • Goal 10:  Sustainable management of the biosphere for enabling people and planet to thrive together.
  • Goal 11: Rules on running the world economy for the fairly shared benefit of all nations.
  • Goal 12: Good global governance for transparent and accountable international institutions and partnerships.

Mathematicians tell us that 12 is a “sublime number”. It is also a number of significance in most world cultures and in our representation of time. Fortuitous symbolism aside, these are twelve development goals which could change the course of our current development path and improve the lives of millions of people. The critical question now is whether we can all agree on them as we prepare to embark on our journey beyond 2015? Our crisis-scathed world needs to be aroused to overcome our borderless challenges to sustain a common humanity.   

First published in Thomson Reuters Foundation News  

Published by Mukesh Kapila


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