The MDGs have made ending hunger by 2030 possible

    Pregnant woman getting her blood pressure taken at a nutrition program led by Hunger Project-trained volunteers in the Khulna Region of Bangladesh. Photo by: The Hunger Project

    With just over 500 days left for the Millennium Development Goals deadline to expire, it's important to think strategically to ensure that we lay the right foundation for the next set of goals — a set of sustainable development goals — that will take us to 2030.

    When the MDGs were launched in 2000, we were thrilled to see this comprehensive set of goals reflect what we saw as the new human agenda. World leaders had recognized that issues of hunger and poverty are inextricably linked to a nexus of other human and environmental issues.

    Though many were skeptical about the political will and possible financing to achieve the MDGs, they have proven to be a crucial organizing tool. This became quite clear to me when I participated in 2007 in a U.N. Economic and Social Council meeting in Geneva, where I witnessed parliamentarians from many developing countries asking for advice on how to hold their own governments responsible for achieving the goals at the halfway point.

    "Wow," I thought, "this has become quite serious."

    And now, we are even at a point at which several of the goals’ targets have been met where progress wasn’t thought possible in 2000, including the target around halving poverty, now within reach by 2015. Even for the goals on which there is still much work to be done, humanity has learned a great deal. The knowledge and measurable results we have all gained from organizing around these goals gives us a foundation for the future.

    Our experience at The Hunger Project tells us that this platform should center around five basic strategies, which will help us end hunger and poverty and ensure a future of self-reliance and dignity for all people, especially the rural poor:

       1. Start with women.

       2. Mobilize communities.

       3. Engage local governments.

       4. Use a holistic, coordinated approach.

       5. Work in partnership with others.

    Using these fundamental strategies within the framework of the MDGs has enabled us to see incredible progress in many areas.

    In thousands of villages, local leaders continue to use the MDGs as a mobilizing tool and proudly report their results in that framework. In Bangladesh, for example, volunteer animators are working together with local government officials to run community projects and track progress toward achieving the MDGs. In the villages where we work in Africa, the MDGs are often displayed on the walls of our “epicenters,” community centers where people create and run their own programs for meeting basic needs.

    But something has to happen first before these strategies can be used. Mindsets must change on the part of people who have long been convinced they are powerless. They must envision a future, commit to achieving that future and be willing to act together to make it happen. Then, when they have the opportunity to take charge of their own lives and exert control over a fair share of public resources, they will rapidly and dramatically improve their own lives and the lives of their families.

    These are the lessons we have learned that I believe will propel us toward a future free of hunger and poverty, and where each individual will have the resilience to enjoy a life of self-reliance and dignity.

    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.

    The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

    About the author

    • Mary Ellen McNish

      Mary Ellen McNish is president and CEO of The Hunger Project. McNish previously served as the general secretary and the executive head of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for 10 years. She has 35 years of progressive leadership experience in the non-profit sector, including as executive director of development at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and New York Presbyterian Hospital, as well as serving as executive vice president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.