From Global Goals to Local Progress? Lessons from 15 Years of Practice


In 2015, world leaders set out to defy the odds, committing to achieve 17 ambitious and far-reaching Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This was not the first time the world had attempted to raise the trajectory of human progress via Global Goals. In 2000, world leaders had blazed a trail with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the first Global Goals intended to advance the interest we all have, in a more just, peaceful and prosperous world.

The track record of the MDGs provides an opportunity to understand why and how Global Goals matter. Under what conditions do Global Goals motivate change? Which actors, processes, leadership styles and policies accounted for their varying impacts on people’s lives and countries’ prospects? The path to achieve the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), lies at least partly in the answer to these questions.

In its new Report, From the MDGs to Sustainable Development All, UNDP draws on its own track record to tackle these questions. Over the course of the 15 year period, UNDP learned a great deal from local leaders, advocates and government officials. 

Mayors and governors took the initiative of applying the MDGs to their particular village, cities and districts. From them, we learned that Global Goals could be employed to help solve local problems, in particular by building social trust, civic engagement and improving cooperation between those working at local, national and global levels. Far-sighted national leaders taught us that the MDGs could help advance progressive policies and build consensus on national priorities. From Parliamentarians, community and civil society organizations we saw that the MDGs could be employed, ever more skillfully, to expose global injustices, call out inequalities and amplify the voices of marginalized populations.

These were the MDG-era’s unsung heroes. “From the MDGs to Sustainable Development All” offers lessons drawn from their initiative, determination and innovation, distilled by over 50 3rd generation National MDG Reports as well as UNDP’s own support to more than 140 countries.

Its findings suggest that the specifics matter. The MDGs had more impact when they were brought into popular discourse and when local leaders and change agents considered them less a rigid framework and more of an opportunity to:

• Motivate popular engagement;

• Build consensus on national priorities;

• Generate international support;

• Improve coordination within and between governments;

• Make the needs and contributions of particular groups visible; and/or

• Boost transparency and hold leaders to account.

Some actors, countries, communities, goals and targets were more effective than others. The Report analyzes what worked under the MDGs and why. It ends with 10 concrete recommendations for governments, change agents, organizations and local leaders now working to implement the SDGs. The Report aims to illuminate the specifics of what makes Global Goals work. It demonstrates how the visibility and legitimacy of Global Goals can leveraged to strengthen institutions, inspire cooperation, track progress and deliver real-life improvements in people’s lives and in the prospects of their communities. 

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