Global goals that matter

    Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation, speaks during a board visit this May to the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by: United Nations

    “If it wasn’t for the Millennium Development Goals, I probably wouldn’t be here,” said Pablo Aguilera, a young man living with HIV, at an event in May about the global development agenda.

    As he noted, the MDGs helped make the fight against HIV and AIDS an international priority. As a result of strong international action, 9.5 million people in developing countries were receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy in 2012 — important progress in the effort to combat this devastating disease.

    Aguilera’s words are a powerful reminder of the value of the MDGs: By creating a shared, concrete agenda, these goals have mobilized citizens, businesses, governments and organizations to act so millions of additional people have opportunities to stay healthy, go to school, earn an income and build a better future for their families.

    The results have been significant.

    Last week, the United Nations released its annual report on the MDGs, which found that people around the world have been able to improve their lives. Actions to prevent and treat malaria and tuberculosis have saved millions of lives, child mortality has been reduced by almost 50 percent, extreme poverty has been cut in half, more than 2.3 billion people have gained access to an improved source of drinking water, and the gender gap in primary school education has nearly been closed.

    While we have made critical advances, we still have a lot more work to do to make sure that the poorest and most vulnerable communities have access to life-saving services and opportunities. Additionally, progress on the MDGs has been uneven between and within countries, and we need to pick up the pace in several areas, including strengthening child, maternal and reproductive health, and expanding access to sanitation.

    As we approach Aug. 18 — 500 days until the target date for the MDGs — and as we discuss the agenda to follow in 2016, now is the time to recommit to doing everything we can to build momentum. The progress we make now will make a difference in lives around the world and lay the foundation for our shared future efforts.

    That is why over the coming weeks, Devex, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, will feature content highlighting key MDG solutions, advances and opportunities.

    Among people who work on development issues, discussions about the MDGs often quickly dive deep into statistics, charts and trend lines, debates about the most effective interventions and analyses of what is working and what is not. These discussions are essential — after all, one of the most valuable aspects of the MDGs is that they set measurable goals — but as Aguilera demonstrated, for all of their imperfections, the existence of the MDGs matters and their lesson is clear: When the world acts, progress is possible.

    The MDGs are encased in numbers, but at their heart is people — and the idea that every person should have the chance to forge his or her own path in the world. In the coming days, weeks and months, let’s use every tool available to advance the pace of progress. As Graça Machel recently said: "Use the next 500 days to make every day, every action and every life count."

    What is working, and what more can the international community do in the next 500 days to make progress on the Millennium Development Goals? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

    Aug. 18, 2014, marks the 500-day milestone until the target date to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Join Devex, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, to raise awareness of the progress made through the MDGs and to rally to continue the momentum. Check out our Storify page and tweet us using #MDGmomentum.

    About the author

    • Kathy Calvin

      Kathy Calvin is president and chief executive officer of the United Nations Foundation. Her career has spanned work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. She is a passionate advocate for multi-sector problem-solving, U.S. leadership on global issues, and the inclusion of women at all levels and in all sectors.