Helen Clark: Opening Remarks “Making the MDGs work” at 2013 Global MDG Conference

27 Feb 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
2013 Global MDG Conference: “Making the MDGs work”
Hotel Estelar La Fontana, Bogotá, Colombia
Wednesday, 27 February 9:00am

I am very pleased to be here in Bogota for this global conference on “Making the MDGs work”.

My thanks go to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Colombia for joining us, and to the Government of Colombia for welcoming the holding of this conference. Columbia’s support is a testament to its commitment to advance sustainable human development.

It is a pleasure to see UNDP partners and colleagues here from around the world. I have had the privilege of visiting many countries and communities which are speeding up MDG achievement. I have learned a lot from speaking to a great many actors across governments, civil society organisations, and the UN’s development system on what it takes to reach the goals and targets.

A lot of the practical knowledge accumulated on achieving the MDGs since 2000 is gathered here at this conference: in your experiences, in the papers prepared for this and other significant MDG meetings, and in the networks and communities of which you are part.

The aim of this Conference is to share experiences on what works, and motivate all participants to return to their MDG work determined to use every last minute remaining until the end of 2015 focused on achieving the goals and targets. 31 December 2015 is little more than 1,000 days away, so there is no time to lose!

The more the world can achieve on the MDGs, the more it will be possible to build confidence and support for a bold and ambitious post-2015 development agenda. As you know a major global consultation on post-2015 has been running since last year.

The UN itself is facilitating:

  • national level dialogues on post-2015 – already scheduled or held in 74 countries,
  • eleven consultations around themes ranging from health and education to equality, governance, energy, environment, and conflict and security,
  • an online global conversation through social media, reaching very large audiences.


But meanwhile we can’t lose sight of the MDGs we have. Everything learned from what it takes to achieve them is relevant to throwing ourselves behind the global development agenda which follows. It has never been more important to have robust evidence of what makes the MDGs work.

Your contribution to MDG achievement and acceleration will be reflected in a global report due to be released ahead of the UN General Assembly's Special Event on the MDGs in September. At this week’s meeting therefore, we should endeavor to:

  1. deepen our understanding of what makes the MDGs work, so that we can build on the success factors beyond 2015;
  2. identify practical opportunities to accelerate MDG progress in the little more than 1000 days remaining to the 2015 target date;  and
  3. reflect on how to ensure that neither time nor momentum on development is lost in the transition to a post-2015 framework.

Let me now elaborate on three issues: what makes the MDGs work; what more we can do in the last 1000 days of the current MDGs, and the issues to be considered in the post-2015 agenda.

What makes the MDGs work?
The origin and history of the MDGs is very familiar to this audience – many of you have lived and breathed the MDGs for the past decade and more.

In signing the Millennium Declaration in 2000, heads of delegation from 189 countries – many of them Presidents and Prime Ministers - agreed to an ambitious vision for the new millennium to advance human rights, development, and peace. The MDGs were then launched as a pathway towards that vision. By offering measurable and time bound goals, targets, and indicators, they sought to convert the principles and ambitions of the Millennium Declaration into concrete achievement.

The MDGs provided a unifying vision for policymakers, development experts, and civil society. Their clarity, conciseness, and measurability brought diverse actors together around a common cause.

By defining the desired outcomes in human development terms, the MDGs placed the wellbeing of people at the very centre of development efforts. Many also credit the campaigning and engagement which the MDGs inspired for reversing a decline in development assistance – although unfortunately official development assistance has now declined again. Supported by UN Country Teams, many governments internalized the MDG framework within their planning, budgetary, and sectoral policies.

There has undoubtedly been progress on many of the indicators targeted by the MDGs. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty, on under $1.25 per day, is now half of what it was in 1990.  Good progress has been registered on access to improved water sources.  The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys.  Some of the lowest income countries have made the greatest strides. Considerable progress has also been made on MDG Six on HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB.
Alas, there are also the goals and targets where too little progress has been made – for example on maternal mortality reduction, universal access to reproductive health, and improved sanitation. We must learn from these shortcomings too.

This conference can share experiences of how countries have tailored MDG targets and indicators to match their specific country contexts. It can examine how that tailoring has impacted on countries’ and communities’ success in achieving the MDGs.

Previous assessments of MDG progress have shown that national ownership and local champions are indispensable for MDG success. In looking towards the Post-2015 development framework, how can national ownership be strengthened? How can a global agenda be anchored in national and sub-national development strategies?  What are the most effective ways of achieving that?

As countries get closer to reaching the MDG targets, dedicated policies and actions are needed to go the last mile to reach those still excluded. The remaining children not enrolled in primary school, for example, may be physically unable to join due to disability, or be working, or in groups which suffer discrimination, or be inhibited from attending for a range of other reasons unrelated to the physical proximity of schools and teachers. Overall the next global development agenda needs to address the significant problem of inequality which has stood in the way of reaching the MDG targets. 

Accelerating MDG progress in the last 1000 days
Despite the progress made on the MDGs, those major challenges remain: reducing hunger and undernourishment, poor sanitation, and high maternal death rates have proved to be among the most difficult targets to attain. As well, aggregate figures on MDG progress mask large disparities within and across countries – a matter which groups like those representing people with disabilities are emphasizing in the post-2015 consultations.

At this Conference, many of you will present the efforts being made by countries to make progress on the targets which have proved to be elusive.

The UNDG’s MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) – developed by UNDP and piloted in 2010 by UN Country Teams - is one important way in which countries are going about this.

Forty-five countries are now using the MAF to identify pragmatic solutions to speed up progress on lagging MDGs, and to reduce disparities in progress to date. The MAF works by bringing a wide range of stakeholders together to tackle the obstacles to progress. It draws on existing evidence, policies, and strategies to devise concrete and prioritized country action plans.

These plans are not pilot projects. They are designed from the outset to reach the entire target population. While not enough time has passed to see national averages shift, it is clear that, when backed by strong political leadership and concerted support for implementation, the MAF approach works.

A number of governments have now incorporated their MAF action plans in their budget cycles; development partners, such as the EU and JICA, have aligned their investments with some of the plans; and the private sector is being supportive on action plans in a number of countries, including Colombia.

Colombia provides a good example of how the MAF can be used to address the inequalities which result in disparities in progress. Here, the MAF has been deployed at the subnational level, across 76 territories, departments and municipalities, to respond to local priorities for reducing poverty, advancing gender equality, and addressing health shortfalls in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities. Local governments are now partnering with the private sector to implement the resulting regional MDG acceleration action plans.

In Cauca (ˈkauka’) department, for example, a local electricity company funded MAF action plan implementation in the seven most disadvantaged municipalities. As a result, the rural poor, including those from the indigenous and Afro-descendent communities, are increasingly able to get the support and training they need to generate incomes, including in local small agro-businesses.

On the other side of the Pacific, Cambodia has become the first country to use the MAF to focus on women’s economic empowerment at the national level. Cambodia’s acceleration action plan brings the previously scattered efforts of many actors together, to improve the technical and vocational education available to women, and in particular to enable them to exploit the opportunities being generated by the trade and tourism sectors.

In the Central African Republic, the MAF helped establish an integrated and multi-sectoral approach to food security and nutrition. You will hear at this Conference of many other examples from, among others, Costa Rica, Ghana, Indonesia, Moldova, and Niger.

The solutions identified through the MAF are not always ‘quick wins’ with impacts which can be tallied in a simple results matrix. Frequently the solutions identified address specific public administration, capacity, and co-ordination bottlenecks which might otherwise have remained invisible; for example, helping to improve accountability systems so that healthcare workers deliver badly needed medicines in Uganda, or emphasizing the need to deal with unexploded land mines as an integral part of reaching school enrolment goals in remote areas in Lao PDR
The MAF methodology challenges local stakeholders to identify and overcome the impediments which are blocking the achievement of national, local, and globally agreed goals. It is an important tool as we contemplate a global commitment to eradicate poverty in all its manifestations in the post-2015 agenda. I ask you to think through here how we can work together to speed up MDG achievement in these last 1000+ days and beyond.

From now until 2015, the Chief Executives Board chaired by the UN Secretary-General will be considering MAF action plans at their twice yearly meetings, to ensure that the multilateral system gives full support to MDG acceleration.

UN Country Teams will continue supporting the production of the national and local MDG reports which track progress, report challenges, and advocate for targeted action.

I understand that we will shortly be presented with just such a report undertaken by and about the indigenous populations of Colombia. I commend the indigenous community for the leadership they have given to this report, and the Government of Colombia and UN Country Team for their support of it.

Transitioning to Post-2015
The food, fuel, climate, economic, political, and security crises of the first twelve years of this century have reminded us of how fragile development gains can be in the face of shock and adversity.

The post-2015 development framework will need to reflect the new global context fully, while remaining committed to the unfinished business of the MDGs. In the years since the Millennium Declaration was signed, much has changed.

Projections suggest that in 2015 almost 1 billion people will still live in extreme poverty. Many still will not have clean water or improved sanitation. Many will still be suffering from hunger, malnutrition, the burden of preventable ill-health, gender discrimination, and more. Whether or not global MDG targets are met, such suffering is inconsistent with the vision for dignity, equity, freedom, peace, and prosperity of the Millennium Declaration. 

The post-2015 framework can be seen as the next stage of implementation of the vision of the Millennium Declaration. To rise to that challenge, the international community needs to agree on a reinvigorated and transformational global agenda.

There is an emerging consensus on the desirability of designing one framework which is aimed at achieving poverty eradication within the context of sustainable development. This reflects the consensus reached at Rio+20, where Member States agreed that sustainable development goals should be made “coherent with and integrated into the UN Development Agenda beyond 2015”.

A process is underway at the UN to explore how sustainable development goals could be formulated. Colombia has played a key global role in promoting the concept of SDGs, and can count on UNDP as a partner in realizing this vision.

With the significant threats to development posed by climate change and environmental degradation now readily apparent, Member States at Rio+20 agreed that development which is not sustainable is not worth having. Human development and protecting the planet’s resources need to be approached as two sides of the same coin.

Taking this approach forward will require countries to adopt integrated approaches which advance social, economic, and environmental objectives simultaneously. UNDP works to support countries to adopt such ‘triple wins’ approaches. 

We need to be thinking now about how the UN and development partners can support countries to transition to the post-2015 development agenda without delay once it is agreed. 

It is also important to begin thinking now about how a more universal framework, which requires all countries to act for sustainable development, might be advanced. 

This forum can contribute to these discussions.

This is an exciting time to be working on MDG acceleration and the Post-2015 agenda. Thank you for all the passion, ideas, and experience you bring to this work. What the MDGs have taught us is to aim high and think bigger; the wellbeing of people and the planet we share depend on that.