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One of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty. While in Vietnam it's been achieved, other countries are still struggling

As we head into the Lunar New Year and debts are paid off and homes swept clean to ensure health and success in the coming months, the UN has also done a bit of housekeeping. Put your thinking caps on. Quick! — name the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years. OK, can you name the old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? Something about poverty and water, right?


The SDGs are the new group of goals, targets (complete with indicators) that UN member nations will use to structure and track their development and policies for the next 15 years. The rationale is that the MDGs (initiated in 2000) ‘expired’ at the end of last year and so a framework was (re)created to carry on the progress.


The eight old MDGs (in order: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; develop global partnerships) were a voice of global unity for starting the hard work of dismantling so-called intractable problems, such as extreme hunger.




One consistent criticism of the MDGs is that of omission — the goals did not include targets for the systemic causes of development inequality, and so ignored key structural factors like human rights, economic development and eradicating gender-based violence. The more vocal critics said the targets were for ‘poor’ countries to realise, with financing (or heavily restricted funding) from ‘rich’ countries.


The loudest of the critics dismissed the MDGs as condescending donor-driven posturing. Let’s put this in perspective; Brazil achieved most of its MDGs; Benin almost none; and Vietnam was in the middle with three goals achieved (extreme poverty, primary education and child mortality) and “strong” or “significant” progress in the remaining five, says the UNDP.


For the next 15 years the SDGs will pick up and carry on. There are 17 goals and 169 targets contained within them, (easily found online), and what I want to highlight is its language. The goals use words such as “for all”, “sustainable”, and “resilient” and this is to be commended for the intent of inclusiveness and pragmatism. The goals and corresponding targets have better heft to them and in quantifiable terms.


So while I agree there were challenges with the MDGs (lack of participatory research, community dialogue, and drafted entirely by men), I am encouraged by goals for the next 15 years, such as SDG Goal 5 to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” because it spells out how progress in this area has been made and doing more. The UN also stresses its belief that equality is a fundamental human right and crucial for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.


Another promising addition is SDG Goal 8 for “inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all” (a nod in the direction of both youth and older workers), which also acknowledges eliminating exploitative employment through stable, well-paying jobs.


There are gaps in the SDGs; they haven’t (yet) addressed that a leading cause of poverty is the expropriation of resources by the few at the expense of the many.


But we already know the journey starts with the first step, let’s keep walking.


Dana McNairn is the CEO of KOTO, a non-profit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk youth

Dana McNairn

For the last ten years Dana McNairn has worked for NGOs on the frontline of human rights and gender-based violence, as well as INGOs such as the Canadian Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. She is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

Website: danamcnairn.com

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