Recapturing the Narrative of International Development

A recent paper from Sakiko Fukada-Parr, entitled Recapturing the Narrative of International Development
'Though it is difficult to assess whether the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have contributed to poverty trends across the world, their impact on the discourse on international development has been powerful and unexpected.  By articulating the complex challenges of development in eight goals with concrete 2015 targets, the MDGs have had unprecedented success in drawing attention to poverty as an urgent global priority. But the narrow emphasis has also led to detracting attention from other important priorities-the complex strategic choices in economic policy-and has simplified development policy debates.   
The MDGs have created a new narrative of international development centred on global poverty as a compelling moral concern. This narrative convincingly appeals to rich country “publics and parliaments” and to new global philanthropists. But the simplification of development to eight goals has reduced the development agenda to meeting basic needs, stripped of the Millennium Declaration’s vision for development with social justice and human rights. The narrative leaves out any mention of equity, empowerment of people and building sustainable productive capacity for economic growth. It has no room for understanding poverty as related to the underlying power relations within and between countries and the asymmetries in the global economy. It leaves out much of the broader policy agendas, including the systemic issues of the global economy that have long been priorities for developing countries in international economic negotiations, and impacts of liberalization and privatization on the poor that have been priorities for the critics of globalization. Goals galvanize concern and action but quantification can oversimplify complex challenges with unintended consequences for the way these challenges are defined.   
While there is widespread consensus on their importance in drawing attention to poverty as an urgent global priority, the MDG framework has generated some sharp criticisms. These include:  
• composition of the targets-what was included and not included, the levels at which they were set or not set, the methodology for measuring implementation progress;   
• reliability of the MDGs as a development framework given their narrow scope and oversimplification, and bias against African and other countries because of failure to take into account initial conditions, and the arbitrary and incoherent methodologies used to set the targets;   
• non-participatory process by which they were formulated by bureaucrats without adequate intergovernmental negotiations nor open consultation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and   
• inappropriate application of the goals as national planning targets.'  

Important reading in light of goals such as the MDGs resulting in a disproportional global focus upon primary education. Fukada-Parr covers ten critical issues that need to be addressed in redesigning development goals - these include: adapting targets to national contexts; clarifying the purpose; and acknowledging inequality within countries.

You can read the full paper

It seems this is actually predicated on the assumption that global development targets are a good thing though. I'm not sure I'm entirely convinced. Thoughts? Are there better alternatives?


  1. Though the criticism of the process of MDGs and their impact on poverty alleviation is valid,it has helped in meeting some of the basic needs, especially in backward regions. Even in these simple projects implementation and coordination with other ongoing development activities have been problematic. The problem of poverty has become more complex in some developing countries because of expanding globalization and privatization. Despite availability of considerable empirical data on development interventions further planning of programmes and projects does not make use of it to avoid known problems. Globalization has also weakened the power of governments to intervene quickly in favour of the poor. In the absence of safety nets through social security, etc. poverty is enahanced both in rural and urban areas. Experience of MDGs in different countries will reveal very interesting comparisons and contrasts which may help in better planning and implementation of similar schemes in future. Vasant Moharir.

    1. Thanks for the comment Vasant. You're right, it's important to see both sides of the story, and yes I agree that undoubtedly the MDGs have helped meet basic needs in some cases. I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing, particularly if we view it from a micro-perspective and consider that certain people's lives have changed for the better. I think where the criticism is valid however is where the MDGs - and in fact any development target - have come to be the limit towards which people work. By this I mean, they do not move beyond it. Once the box is ticked, it is viewed as an achievement in terms of the original goal, without actually examining if the situation could be bettered.

      I completely agree however, the experience of the MDGs can potentially be used to analyse how things can be different in the future. It would be foolish not to learn from the mistakes.