Who should set the world's goals?

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Story highlights

  • Jamie Drummond: U.N. Millennium Development Goals for 2015 have had dramatic effects
  • Drummond says they've saved millions of lives, reduced poverty and put children in school
  • As world drafts goals beyond 2015, views of the poorest should be influential, he says
  • He says technology enables us to poll the world and have consensus on the new goals

Remember the most anticipated year in all human history, 2000?

Remember Y2K, the dotcom bubble, stressing about whose party you're going to go to as the clock strikes midnight, before the champagne goes flat, and then there's that inchoate yearning that was felt, I think, by many, that the millennium, that 2000, should mean more, more than just a two and some zeroes.

Well, amazingly, for once, our world leaders actually lived up to that millennium moment and back in 2000 agreed to some extraordinary stuff: visionary, measurable, long-term targets called the Millennium Development Goals.

Watch Jamie Drummond's TED Talk

Now, I'm sure you all keep a copy of the goals under your pillow, or by the bedside table, but just in case you don't, and your memory needs some jogging, the deal agreed then goes like this: Developing countries promised to at least halve extreme poverty, combat hunger and deaths from disease and achieve other targets, by 2015, and developed nations promised to help them get that done by dropping debts, increasing smart aid and reforming trade.

We're now approaching 2015, so we'd better assess, how are we doing on these goals? But we've also got to decide, do we like such global goals? Some people don't. And if we like them, we've got to decide what we want to do on these goals going forward. What does the world want to do together? And we've got to decide a process by which we decide.

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I do think global goals can be helpful. I know some people are skeptical of big global summits and abstract political promises, but that's because they hardly know about the existence of any such goals, or that the goals we've got have in many cases been remarkably successful.

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With partners we've worked on a few specific commitments in the fight against extreme poverty hunger and disease and seen how when they are focused, such agreements can make a real measurable difference.

Take AIDS or malaria -- in the last 10 years 8 million more people are on life-preserving HIV treatment, and the number of people dying from malaria has been nearly halved. Or vaccines -- which have prevented more than 5 million deaths. Or debt cancellation, which has helped put 46 million more children in Africa through school.

When you've seen campaigns such as these go from the margins to the mainstream and achieve real success and save lives, it is hard not to be supportive of more such goals. I wonder why don't more people know about such successes? But that's a subject for a different essay.

Even with these great successes, there's still a lot of unfinished business. Still, 7.6 million children die every year of preventable, treatable diseases, and 178 million kids are malnourished to the point of stunting, a horrible term that means physical and cognitive lifelong impairment. So there's plainly a lot more to do on the goals we've got.

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And there are a lot of people who think there are things that should have been in the original package that weren't agreed back then that should now be included, such as sustainable development targets, natural resource governance targets, access to opportunity, to knowledge, equity, fighting corruption. All of this is measurable and could be in the new goals.

But the key thing here is, what do you think should be in the new goals? What do you want? Are you annoyed that I haven't mentioned gender equality or education? Should those be in the new package of goals?

There are going to be some tough trade-offs and choices here, so you want to hope that the process by which the world decides these new goals is going to be legitimate, right?

Well, if you agree that such global goals can be helpful, and are required to galvanize more action, how then should they be set?

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The process by which they could be agreed in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century should certainly look very different than that through which they were agreed at the end of the 1990s. The reason: new technologies.

Let's start by properly polling the poorest people, for whom all these goals are supposed to be designed. After all: If the goals are to help them, then they should respond to what the poorest want.

We can today poll, scientifically, people across the developing world in ways we couldn't before. We can also ask a wider community of people around the world what they want the goals to be and how they want to support the achievement of these goals.

All this is much easier than before through the use of modern technology. The Web and mobile phones, along with ubiquitous reality TV formats have spread all around the world. So we should use them to involve people from around the world in a historic first: the world's first truly global poll and consultation, where everyone everywhere has an equal voice for the first time.

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What's key is that technology should help the process be open, inclusive and put the views of the poorest first. My belief is that not only will the new goals build on the momentum of the original goals and in many cases finish off the job they started, but we will also develop a bigger constituency for getting the goals finished than we had the first time around.

The new global goals, when and if agreed, will probably set targets for 2030. So if we work together, and achieve these visionary targets we've all agreed on together, we can genuinely set a path to beat back extreme poverty. That will also help ensure greater peace and prosperity for us all, not though vague abstract promises, but through tangible concrete steps. Because we can, why wouldn't we? C'mon people.

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