The 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which were established by the United Nations to address internationally pressing development issues – is fast approaching. The eight goals set were: 1) eradicate poverty and hunger, 2) achieve universal primary education, 3) promote gender equality and empower women, 4) reduce child mortality, 5) improve maternal health, 6) combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, 7) ensure environmental sustainability, and 8) develop a global partnership for development. With negotiations for the Post-2015 agenda almost concluded, it is important to look at whether or not the MDGs were achieved. If not, why not, and what lessons can we learn?

Last year the Commonwealth Foundation – a development organisation that works in collaboration with civil society organisations and governments – partnered with the UN Millennium Campaign to compose a report ,'Commonwealth Perspectives: Ideas for a new development agenda', on the success of the MDGs in 13 developing countries: Cameroon, Ghana, Grenada, Jamaica, Malawi, Pakistan, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, and Zambia. The report offers an analysis of each nation’s progress towards achieving each of the MDGs and future recommendations for the post-2015 development agenda.

According to the research conducted by the Commonwealth Foundation, 31% of nations studied have already achieved universal primary education within their respective countries. Pakistan is the only nation studied that is certain not to achieve this goal by 2015. Literacy and enrolment rates, whilst improving, are still very low in Pakistan and gender disparity in the education system is an ongoing issue. The Royal Commonwealth Society recognises the importance of education for development, and supports this goal through educational youth programmes. The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme is just one of these programmes, searching for exceptional young people around the Commonwealth who have made significant societal achievements. Launched by Their Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry of Wales on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme aims to award 240 inspirational young people from across the Commonwealth for their achievements in the next four years and to support organisations around the Commonwealth to help to engage youth in the community. The RCS also runs the world’s oldest essay competition – launched in 1833 – which promotes literacy and challenges youth throughout the Commonwealth to express their ideas about global issues.  

Of the 13 developing Commonwealth countries studied, Jamaica is the only nation to have achieved the target of eliminating gender disparity in all levels of education. However, Jamaica still has room for improvement when it comes to gender equality: women constituted only 12.7% of members of the House of Representatives in 2011. The 31% of nations who are unlikely to complete this goal, including Malawi and Pakistan, are currently plagued with various gender inequality issues, including child marriage and domestic violence. Gender equality is an issue that the RCS has worked on for many years, including a campaign to end child marriage, launched in 2010. We attended the June Global Summit Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted by Angelina Jolie and William Hague, exhibiting an infographic and an accompanying report titled ‘Hidden Violence in the Commonwealth’. This highlights countries in the Commonwealth with high prevalence of domestic violence, modern slavery, child marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting. The RCS  is also  engaging at the Girl Summit in London in July, which aims to stop child marriage and female genital mutilation.

With regards to ensuring environmental sustainability, only two countries are likely to achieve this goal by 2015, including Tanzania, which has seen an increase in urban access to drinking water from 68% in 1990 to 79.9% in 2008. On the other hand, 77% of the nations studied, including Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Zambia, are unlikely to achieve this goal, as many suffer from large environmental issues such as lack of water supply, deforestation, and fossil fuel burning. However, this is not just an issue in the developing world. With lack of political will within the developed world, developing nations are unwilling or unable to lead change. Currently, the RCS is in conversation with Cool Earth and several High Commissions to create a Commonwealth rainforest initiative called ‘Commonwealth Canopy ‘.

In its report, the Commonwealth Foundation has formulated suggested areas of focus for the post-2015 development agenda which it has drawn from its overall data. The Commonwealth Foundation believes that the upcoming development agenda should focus on the following issues: gender empowerment, youth, small states and vulnerabilities, non-communicable diseases, and education. In addition, the Commonwealth Foundation believes that there is a need for ‘adaptable, domesticated, and localised’ goals for the post-2015 development agenda, as the MDGs have proven to be far too general and unrealistic for developing nations to achieve.  This is a positive set of recommendations. Given that under-25s make up 50% of the Commonwealth’s population, The Royal Commonwealth Society agrees that youth should be a central focus for the future. The RCS took part in the Experts Group Meeting on Youth Indicators hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat in June, which ultimately set to propose that youth-oriented targets be included in the post-2015 development agenda. The Commonwealth also has a high number of small island states and high membership of developing states. That makes much of the development agenda a particular challenge within the Commonwealth, but it also makes it more important to achieve.

Overall, the Commonwealth nations studied in this report have made slow progress towards reaching the targets set out by the United Nations in 2000. One of the largest problems with the lack of success of developing Commonwealth nations in achieving the MDGs is national relevance. For many developing nations, the MDG goals are unrealistic and exclude goals related to highly dominant issues such as governance, youth unemployment, accountability, and human rights abuses. The aim for the post-2015 development agenda is to ‘leave no one behind’. As a result, we must make sure that this new agenda takes into account regional differences and aims to make improvements on the ground in each country rather than just improving the global statistic.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.