Towards a Sustainable Future: Reviewing the Millennium Development Goals

Our fall 2015 feature issue, Towards a Sustainable Future: Reviewing the Millennium Development Goals, has hit newsstands! Check out the latest print edition as well as some exclusive online content.


At the turn of the millennium, the world united in a set of pledges to ensure that the most basic needs of every one of its inhabitants could be met. The global community promised itself that, together, we would have eradicated extreme poverty and hunger, halving the proportion of people living on under $1.25 per day. We would have achieved universal primary education worldwide. Reduced child mortality rates by two thirds; halted and reversed the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. We would have promoted gender equality, improved maternal health, and fostered environmental sustainability.

This year, the 15-year timeline on those pledges expires. In this issue, the Harvard International Review looks back to examine what progress has been made, questioning the design—if not the noble intentions—of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and what the future of global development and poverty alleviation will look like in the coming decades. The global community has this year come together to continue the momentum of the MDGs towards a more inclusive and comprehensive set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are now targets for all countries, not just for the poverty-stricken. The SDGs draw together a momentous year of international cooperation towards a sustainable future, which has also included a landmark international agreement on development financing, and culminates with the Paris conference in December in search of a comprehensive climate change agreement. Now is a perfect time to reflect on the past, present, and future of global development efforts.

This issue of the Harvard International Review aims to do just that, with contributions from three United Nations officials working intimately on these issues: an interview with Nafis Sadik, special advisor to the secretary-general and special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Asia, covers gendered issues of the UN development agenda; Erna Solberg, current prime minister of Norway and co-chair of the secretary-general’s MDG Advocacy Group talks about the transition from the MDGs to the SDGs; and Ray Chambers, the secretary-general’s special envoy for financial the MDGs and for malaria, discusses his work in an interview. An article from Nicholas Alipui and Shannon O’Shea, respectively director and programme specialist at UNICEF’s Post-2015 Development Agenda Unit, passionately describes the importance of focusing on children in the drive for sustainable development. Sarah Cumberland from the World Health Organization (WHO) discusses recent achievements and remaining challenges in the global health field, while an interview with global economist Dambisa Moyo covers the topic from an economist’s perspective. Articles from staff writers Kevin Xie and Basia Rosenbaum round out a comprehensive analysis of this issue.

Beyond the magazine’s featured topic, interviews with European Parliament Member Damian Drăghici and former Brazilian presidential candidate and leader of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, Aécio Neves, discuss the problems faced by the of Roma populations in Europe and Brazilian foreign policy respectively. Our Perspectives section includes articles from Andreas Umland, senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kiev, Timothy Ashby, former senior US Commerce Department official responsible for trade with Cuba, and Zama Coursen-Neff, executive director of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

The extent to which the Millennium Development Goals has shaped the recent discourse on global development and poverty alleviation cannot be understated. The MDGs crystallized the development interests of the global community into 8 simple goals, focusing the world’s attention and mobilizing action. They were indeed imperfect: too narrowly defined, perhaps, and without an effective financing mechanism to ensure delivery. Their replacement this year by the SDGs is a momentous occasion for the world to take stock of how far we have come and renew our efforts to ensure that every person on this planet has access to a dignified and comfortable existence.

To a sustainable and prosperous future—

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James Watkins & Neha Dalal


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