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The Millennium Development Goals: a framework for accelerating impact
Shantanu Mukherjee is head of UNDP’s MDG team in their development policy bureau. Shantanu is a development practitioner and micro-economist. Prior to joining UNDP, he worked for the Indian Government in various capacities. He earned a PhD in Economics from Princeton University, and also holds degrees in Public Affairs and Physics.
The Special Event on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly wrapped up in late September, delivering an outcome document that emphasised the need to accelerate progress, especially against the hard-to-reach goals. The call to acceleration begs the question, what has happened since the 2010 MDG Summit?
A fair amount, as it turns out. Goals on extreme poverty and access to drinking water have been met; an MDG fund of 1 billion euros from the European Commission is at work in the Asia, Caribbean and Pacific regions; and special initiatives such as ‘Every Woman, Every Child’ and ‘Scaling Up Nutrition’ are helping to mobilise partnerships across the world.
Then there is the MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF), originally designed to help countries speed up progress on goals that are otherwise likely to be missed, but now increasingly used to address issues such as inequality and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as well. I have been part of the MAF since inception, and our team has worked closely with the countries that are putting it to work.
How does the MAF work?
The MAF helps a country re-evaluate, in a systematic, holistic manner, what it is doing to meet a specific MDG, and then design workable solutions to remove the bottlenecks that are getting in the way of obtaining maximum impact from its efforts. It was developed and tested in 10 countries by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) between 2009 and 2010, and was subsequently approved for UN-wide use. It is now being applied to different goals and targets in over 50 countries.
(Click map to access a PDF of the full MAF report. Map taken from page 61)
The MAF responds to a clear political commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve progress on the chosen MDG: Ghana’s declaration of ‘maternal mortality as a national emergency’ is an example. Based on this commitment, government ministries and departments, external agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academia and other partners come together to examine the problem using the MAF methodology, including those whose immediate involvement may be less apparent, as well as cross-sectoral ministries such as those for planning and finance.
For example, the MAF process for tackling slow progress on MDG 5 – maternal mortality – would certainly include the ministries of health and family welfare, agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and health-sector NGOs. But it would also involve such diverse actors as the ministries of transportation, public works, and local government; faith-based NGOs; the private sector; local academia; and agencies such as the UNDP.
This extended MAF team meets to develop and validate the MDG acceleration action plan through a loosely structured yet well-defined process.
Why does this process help?
The MAF analysis of bottlenecks – factors limiting the impact of otherwise proven interventions – requires the team to adopt an end-to-end view of interventions; for instance, both individually and collectively examining issues of service use alongside those of service availability. Detailed questions help the team identify and rank bottlenecks in terms of the impact they would have if removed.
Evidence and knowledge from the field are crucial: recent data, disaggregated by region or along other dimensions; facilities or user surveys; reviews and assessments of policies and programmes; qualitative evidence from NGOs; focus groups and participative assessments – even in 2010, the MDGs had been around long enough for countries to have accumulated a wealth of information about what is successful in their context and what is not. Evidence of sub-national disparities helps focus attention on why certain regions are doing worse than others, and helps to customise approaches to tackle these differences.
Feasibility and sustainability are of paramount importance in deciding on solutions to each bottleneck. These solutions collectively constitute the acceleration action plan. The individual entities involved in the process commit to execute those parts of the action plan that lie within their areas of expertise.
The broad range of knowledge and expertise in the team is vitally important, but it needs skillful, and neutral, facilitation. Participants may need encouragement to speak up or to continue probing for specific answers, while individual agendas and vested interests will need to be resolved.
How does implementation work?
By design, the action plan builds upon existing national plans and processes, and the primary implementer is the government. For example, Niger’s government committed US$30 million over five years to its acceleration plan for hunger. Later, this plan became a central part of the national food-security strategy, ‘Les Nigeriens Nourrissent Les Nigeriens’. External partners supported the action plan either through financial resources or by aligning their own work programmes to implement specific action-plan activities.
Many solutions call for little or no additional resources. For example, changing the rules to make local water boards more representative removed an important bottleneck to addressing disparities in access to water by the indigenous population. Cross-sectoral actors are vital – for example, when the programme to defuse unexploded land mines in a post-conflict country prioritises pathways for accessing primary schools, it removes a bottleneck to attendance that was beyond the authority of the education ministry.
Some of the most innovative solutions come from the private sector. For example:
• A motor-transport union worked out a system of reimbursable vouchers with the government to transport women free of cost to birth centres at the time of delivery in Ghana. Also in Ghana, a logistics company worked to improve the supply-chain management of essential medicines to reduce the chances of ‘stock-outs’ in outlying clinics.
• Associations of business owners from rapidly growing sectors such as tourism, and information and communication technology, are helping to bring vocational and entrepreneurship development programmes in Cambodia and Costa Rica closer to fulfilling market demand, particularly for women and the disabled.
• Chambers of Commerce helped clarify quality standards and procedures so that first-generation agricultural entrepreneurs could supply their products to local hotels in a tourism hub in Colombia.
What’s next for the MAF?
It is essential for impact that the implementation of the acceleration action plans continues, and many different partners have roles to play here, both in the country and outside. The more that is done now, the higher the baselines for the period beyond 2015.
At the same time, a growing fraction of national action plans – over 15% at time of publication – are tackling priorities that go beyond the MDGs: reducing disparities, financially empowering women, addressing NCDs, among others. These can provide valuable lessons for the design and implementation of a future development agenda.