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Why shift from MDG To SDG?

Transitioning from MDGs to SDGs: Learning from past goals to embrace a broader, more inclusive approach to sustainable development.
Written by
Alan Pierce
Published on
June 29, 2019

Moving from MDGs to SDGs incorporates lessons learned, broadening focus to inclusive, global sustainability challenges and practical implementation.

wereGlobal development planning and initiatives have changed immensely in recent decades. There’s been a move from a fragmented approach to a more integrated and aligned strategy thanks to the advent of the Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) and the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030).

sustainable development goals 2030
Fig: The 2030 Agenda from the MDGs to the SDGs

That’s not to say there isn’t more work to be done to improve outcomes. There is. And a lot more de-fragmenting of the ecosystem is still to be achieved.

In this blog, we’ll take a look at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come in the evolution of impact strategies thanks to learnings from the MDGs and the SDGs. We’ll particularly look at how funding and engagement have shifted from one to the other.

This will serve any impact or development professional looking to improve how they are collaborating towards a certain SDG (or multiple Goals).

Leveraging collaborative tools and strategies will bring us closer to achieving the ambitious SDG targets. Here’s how we’ve gotten to understand that collaborative reality and how you might take part in making it even more impactful.

What were the Millennium Development Goals?

The Millennium Development Goals were a set of eight objectives developed and set forth by the United Nations in the year 2000 following the UN Millennium Summit and the United Nations Millennium Declaration of the same year. 

Every member nation at the time (191 in total) committed to play a part in helping achieve the goals by the year 2015.

During that time, progress was not uniform across the world with some countries making big strides and others making little to no progress across the eight goals. Of course, it is also debatable to what extent the creation of the MDGs themselves led to the progress that was seen.

In 2015, to continue spurring global collaboration toward a better world, the UN revamped the framework by introducing the SDGs.

Aligning With Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of 17 objectives set forth by the United Nations in 2015 to define the global development agenda for the next 15 years until 2030.

It was a massively collaborative effort to define the Goals and design the indicator and target frameworks to be used for impact accounting. Indeed, the SDGs were also a wake-up call to leaders across the world, demanding catalysts for collaboration across sectors and impact areas.

To date, it would seem we are far from achieving the Goals, although some progress has been made across the board.

What do we need to do to improve the chances of success? Evolve our impact strategies by learning from what didn’t work with the MDGs and what’s not working so well with the SDGs. 

Let’s take a look at the differences between the two frameworks and how those differences offer key insights into the impact strategies needed to get us to the future we all want to see.

Difference between MDG and SDG

Any comparison between the MDGs and the SDGs needs to start with the fact that the SDGs are by far a more collaborative-oriented framework. We can see this in some of the key differences highlighted below:

Top-down vs. Stakeholder-center approach

Groups of technical experts were brought together at the UN to develop and give form to the MDGs in what was mostly a top-down process. The SDGs, on the other hand, were designed using a massively collaborative approach that took into account input from key stakeholders across the globe (including 193 member states, scientists, private sector actors, and more).

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were and are a key part of SDG advancement

CSOs -- for example, community-based organizations, NGOs, etc. -- were involved from the get-go in the development of the SDGs. There have been further calls since then to keep them engaged and at the forefront of the strategic agenda.

Engagement from rich countries vs. poor

The MDG model was heavily focused on encouraging funding and initiative-building coming from richer countries to benefit poorer countries. The SDGs, on the other hand, call upon all countries to generate internal strategies for goal progress, while looking for ways to collaborate across borders to amplify the impact of those national strategies.

sdg 17 partnerships

A Goal for partnerships themselves!

Goal 17 of the SDGs, Partnerships for the Goals, was included to specifically emphasize the need for a collaborative approach amongst impact areas, across impact areas, between different kinds of organizations, etc. 

How Impact Strategy Has Evolved from the MDGs to the SDGs

A final key difference, which also brings us to the reason why impact strategies had to be adjusted and continue to evolve, is the fact that the MDGs were “halfway” goals, while the SDGs are “zero” goals.

In other words, the MDGs were meant to bring us closer to a world without poverty. The SDGs are meant to get us all the way there.

Getting to zero has translated impact strategy from focusing on the “easier” problems and/or solutions to getting after the more complex, systemic issues at the root of poverty and other social or environmental ills. Logistically, this means focusing less on aid and more on empowerment and systems change.

Here are four strategic changes that impact leaders have had to make and will have to keep getting better at if we are to live up to the ambitions we set forth as a global community at the outset of the SDG journey.

un global compact

Coalitions of Collaboration

Noticing a theme in this blog? For good reason, the response to the need for systemic change has been a call for partnerships amongst key players across ecosystems.

Led by initiatives like the UN Global Compact and the Partnerships Platform, the move from "send aid" to "let's empower each other" has led to huge social impact returns (with the potential to be enduring impacts).

A Funding Revolution

In line with finding alternatives or ways to complement traditional aid models, there has been a push for countries to generate their own new (or revamped) sources of revenue to help fund the development and implementation of SDG-aligned programs and initiatives.

In other words, instead of relying on development assistance and/or public monies, nations have taken a more serious approach to create financing models of their own wherein capital can flow into national projects as investment dollars. This, of course, can also help spur economic growth leading to better outcomes across the board (employment, health, education, etc.)

 Demanding Accountability Through Data

The MDGs severely lacked monitoring, evaluation, and other frameworks for impact accountability. The SDGs, on the other hand, pushes us to manage impact data (ensuring its quality and timely acquisition).

Check out Sopact's cloud-based impact data management solution

The 169 targets and 230 indicators that come packaged with the SDGs are just a start. Impact leaders have had to work together to figure out efficient and innovative ways to acquire, manage, analyze, and report on data aligned with the SDGs. The impact insights gleaned from reliable data are, well, much more reliable! This enables impact practitioners to learn and improve programs, eventually improving outcomes for beneficiaries.

Impact Investing Becomes a Development Player

With all this data and a move towards more financing of development initiatives, impact investors have taken a more leading role in the SDG charge.

The 2019 Annual Impact Investor Survey by the GIIN found that “more than 60% of investors specifically track their investment performance to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs), driven by a desire to integrate into a global development paradigm.”

Encouraging investment capital to flow more freely into this “development paradigm” will only continue to strengthen nations and strengthen impact outcomes.

Global Goals: A World of Difference

From eight goals to 17, from a top-down approach to one of the biggest collaborative efforts in human history, the shift from the MDGs to the SDGs has been a slow but steady realization of human potential to work together for the greater good.

We’ve not just been able to refine the objectives we’re aiming for, we’ve also seen the power of collaboration at work and have been able to adjust our impact strategies as a global community to really address and solve problems on a systems level. 

We’re not there yet. There is a lot of work to be done to keep up the inertia we’ve built up across the globe.

But with the data revolution that is underway, along with emergent collaboration and financing models, and the force of impact investing being introduced more fully into the development sector, a brighter future is becoming a more feasible reality.

Learn more: Impact Measurement

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