The global conversation has responded to a thirst for engagement by all people to shape their future, and provided a host of good ideas on how governments, businesses, and civil society can help to make that future a reality.

The Millennium Development Goals  (MDGs) are a set of eight simple goals that aim to improve the lives of the poorest people in the world. Introduced soon after the historic United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, they have helped to steer governments and others toward policies that make faster progress on meeting essential needs like education, health care, gender equality, and access to food and water. They have mobilized additional funding and helped to allocate that funding in a better way.


Substantial progress has been made on many of the goals. Income poverty has been halved thanks mostly to rapid progress in Southeast Asia, millions more children have been able to get into primary school, and tremendous progress has been made on increasing the number of people with access to improved drinking water. But progress has been slower on other goals such as reducing maternal mortality and improving access to sanitation. Of particular concern, there have been wide variations in progress—across countries, within countries, and for different groups of people.



The MDGs will expire in 2015, and the focus of the UN system and governments at this time is to make as much progress as possible on the current set of goals. At the same time, discussions have already started on what might replace them, including on a new set of goals and targets that support poverty eradication and development that is more sustainable.


The various agencies of the UN have been supporting this process by providing evidence on what has worked and what has not with the MDGs, and by facilitating a “global conversation”  on the world that people want. More than 1.5 million people all over the world have engaged in 100 national dialogues, 11 thematic meetings, and an online portal that includes a survey on global priorities called MY World. The global conversation has responded to a thirst for engagement by all people to shape their future, and provided a host of good ideas on how governments, businesses, and civil society can help to make that future a reality.


The results of the consultations have been captured in an important UN report released in September 2013, titled "A Million Voices: The World We Want," and have helped to inform other key reports including that of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. A searchable consultations database allows people to find out more about the issues they care most about. In addition, the votes of the 1.2 million people that have taken part in the MY World survey can be separated by country, gender, education level, and age.


Overall, the global conversation points to two main findings. First, the issues covered by the MDGs are still important for people the world over, but the goals and targets that governments employ can be refined and deepened. Second, people point to a range of issues that affect their lives but are not covered by the current set of goals and targets: decent jobs and livelihoods; better governance; respect for the planet and environment; and the freedom to live without the fear of conflict, crime, and violence.


But what do the consultations tell us about the specific issues that are most important for older people?


The national dialogues have provided a set of incredibly powerful and rich stories about how the lives of older people can be improved. In Burkina Faso, older people lamented the lack of doctors that could treat the particular illnesses they faced. In Costa Rica, older people recounted how they fear being assaulted when they collect their pensions. In the Philippines, older people demanded policies for a better economic environment so that they could get decent jobs and contribute to growth. And in Mozambique, grandparents described the challenges they faced when raising their orphaned grandchildren.


The articulation of this set of complex concerns is supported by the votes captured in the MY World survey. Nearly 40,000 people over the age of 61 have taken part so far. Their top seven priorities are identical to the top seven priorities of all global participants, albeit in a different order. In first place for older people comes “better health care,” followed closely by “a good education,” and “an honest and responsive government.” These three options are chosen by about 60 percent of voters. “Access to clean water and sanitation” and “affordable and nutritious food” come next, followed closely by “protection against crime and violence” and “better job opportunities.” For the larger set of global voters, “a good education” comes first, and “better job opportunities” places third. For older people in low-income countries, “better transport and roads” sneaks into the top seven priorities. For middle-income countries, “protecting forests, rivers, and oceans” rises to seventh place.


While the priorities of older people around the world do not differ greatly from those of other groups, the specific needs of older people change according to the theme. Health care needs to be appropriate to the challenges that typically face people as they grow older, and lifelong learning opportunities allow people to remain productive and gain access to better jobs. The findings have important implications for policy. “Better job opportunities” ranks 13th in countries with very high levels of human development, but 4th in countries with low human development. This is likely to reflect the availability of pensions in richer countries and other welfare measures that subsidize fuel and transport. These measures can ameliorate the fear of having to work far beyond a normal retirement age.


The High-Level Panel report makes an important recommendation on how we track progress for all groups in the future development agenda to ensure that no one is left behind. The report argues that much greater attention needs to be paid to collecting timely and high-quality data. Where the goals ultimately chosen by governments are of particular importance for older people, better data will let us see whether commensurate progress is also being made for them in each country.


There are still two years left before governments will decide on a new framework to replace the MDGs. There is still plenty of time left to express your opinion; take part in the global conversation, and help to create a better world!

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about the author


Paul Ladd joined UNDP in 2006 and currently heads the organization’s Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.


Previously, he had led UNDP’s policy team on inclusive globalization—covering issues of trade, development finance, and migration—as well as the group that prepared UNDP’s contribution to the September 2010 Review Summit on the Millennium Development Goals. From 2008–09, he provided support to the Office of the UN Secretary-General in New York on the financial and economic crisis and the UN’s engagement with the G20.


Before his New York assignment, Ladd was a policy adviser on international development for the UK Treasury, including the period building up to and through the UK’s Chair of the G8 and European Union in 2005.


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Better world!


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