There Are No Silver Bullets: The Way We Can Achieve 169 Targets

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are upon us, the goals which the international community will agree on for helping the poor around the world. They follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which to hear one former UN official tell it, started out very humbly but had an outsized impact on global agendas. The eight goals served as organizing principles that NGOs, governments and other leaders could get behind to make a concerted effort, and although people argue over how much can be credited to the goals, most agree that there has been significant progress.

Building on the eight MDGs has been an impressive proliferation of goals for the SDGs — 169 targets in 17 categories so far, for example, and the first is the most ambitious of all: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. We can all agree in principle on that and the other 100+ targets, but after the documents are signed and hands shaken will come the work of actually ending poverty, and for that, some lessons from the MDGs (which also had as Goal 1, ending poverty) may be instructive.

In roughly the last 15 years, the same time period as the MDGs, we’ve also seen the growth of the biggest advances in the fight against poverty, the power of good science. Not science as in high-tech solutions to particular problems (which have a mixed track record), but in our ability to measure how much effect an anti-poverty program has, the same way scientists in other fields do, using randomized evaluations. Similar to how the effectiveness of a medicine is evaluated, researchers look at a group that gets a program as well as a similar group that continues life as normal, and follow them to compare how the lives of the —> Read More