Another Soul Searching Review of the Sustainable Development Goals


As a person who works in international development, I am always teetering on that sharp edge of wondering if development work is really doing good for the people who need it – the poorest. My concerns are two-fold:

First, most theories of change to raise people out of poverty are growth based. This article does a good job of looking at this issue. http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/the-sustainable-development-goals-a-siren-and-lullaby-for-our-times/2015/10/01 I share a brief snippet to lure you into reading the full article, entitled The Sustainable Development Goals: A Siren and Lullaby for Our Times

At first glance, the rhetoric of the SDGs seems irresistible. They talk about eliminating poverty “in all its forms, everywhere” by 2030, through “sustainable development” and even addressing extreme inequality. None of which we would argue with of course. But as with all half-truths, one just has to dig beneath the surface for motivations to unravel.

Recent research by economist David Woodward shows that to lift the number of people living under $1.25 a day (in “international dollars”) above the official SDG poverty line, we would have to increase global GDP by 15 times – assuming the best-case-scenario in growth rates and inequality trends from the last 30 years. That means the average global GDP per capita would have to rise to nearly $100,000 in 15 years, triple the average U.S. income right now. In a global economy that is so inefficient at distributing wealth, where 93 cents of every dollar of wealth created ends up in the hands of the richest 1%, more growth is only going to enrich the rich while destroying the planet in its wake.

Of course, it is completely possible to achieve the necessary goal of reducing poverty, but not through the UN’s growth-based, business-as-usual strategy. Poverty can only be eradicated by 2030 if we address two critical issues head on: income inequality and endless material growth.

The second thing I worry about is the folly of those of us in the “north” assuming we know what is good and right for the poor. We can only, at best, be partners. Not saviors. That mentality gets us into a lot of trouble.

What do you think? As you work with your NGOs, how do you view your own work?

Image: flickr photo by Scott..? http://flickr.com/photos/evilpics/13550799833 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

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3 thoughts on “Another Soul Searching Review of the Sustainable Development Goals”

  1. You do have to start somewhere.
    I have posted the link to SDG’s to the 2014 group who are working on planning their International Insights Research project. One important issue is how their research challenge is linked to global issues…. what better ones to look at than the SDG’s!?!
    It has given them inspiration to research into real problems and issues. We have started the cultivation of curiosity on so many levels this year!

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  2. But why don’t we turn it around? Now that the UN are committed to this goal all types of governments and NGO’s and anyone that can do the math really can tell them: “Hey guys, if this is really the goal you don’t have to ‘have a college education to be able to calculate that we’re not going to achieve it by doing what we’ve always done. So let’s start working on new strategies”. It’s great leverage for change. But I’m a lot better at maths than at politics that’s for sure.

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