The Failure of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals

by Rory Mondshein

October 2, 2015

In 2000, 189 member-states came together to confirm their collective commitment to creating a better world for themselves, their citizens, and their children. By the end of the Millennium Summit, the General Assembly identified eight international development goals to complete by 2015: (1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; (2) universal primary education; (3) advocating gender equality and female empowerment; (4) reducing childhood mortality; (5) ameliorating maternal health; (6) combating diseases; (7) promoting environmental sustainability; and (8) fostering a closer global community.

While no one can object to saving children and ending poverty, it appears that the delegates’ vision for a better world blinded their judgment on what was realistically attainable. While the U.N. was right to set high standards for itself and not settle for anything less, the problem was that the Millennium Development Goals failed to acknowledge the root of these issues and help countries develop roadmaps for actually achieving them.

Instead of considering the catalysts for these issues, the General Assembly temerariously handed every nation the document and expected them to find some way to produce considerable results by 2015. Although it is important to respect nations’ sovereignty and trust that their governments are adept at solving these problems, the Millennium Development Goals overlooked the fact that every nation is different in terms of its government system, population, national language, and history. As a result, each nation will have a different journey, and it is unrealistic to expect 189 (or, now, 193) separate entities to have the same results in a limited time frame.

Although the Millennium Development Goals have been partially effective, it is time for the U.N. to take a different approach. Rather than changing the agenda, it is important for nations to keep the momentum. Obviously, we all want to live in a world where no one has to go to bed hungry, and where individuals are not discriminated against by virtue of their gender. However, the approach is key.

It is important for member-states to evaluate the specific issues each nation faces in achieving these goals. This means the U.N. should have each nation outline: (1) the background on the issue (which includes current statistics on these issues); (2) what they have done to ameliorate these issues, and the challenges they face; (3) their goals and roadmaps for achieving them; and (4) anticipated challenges and help/aid requested. These outlines should be organized into one database that each nation has access to. Once the documents are successfully compiled, each government should read all of the position papers to gain some background knowledge of the challenges their fellow nations face. If they find that they identify with a particular nation by virtue of their national histories, government structures, or even if they empathize with them because they have endured similar challenges, then these governments can work together to mentor and help one another overcome the rough patches. Under this model, nations can lean on one another, which reduces the stigma around these challenges and fosters a closer global community.

At the same time, nations must create individual roadmaps for themselves and present them in the General Assembly. With these roadmaps, nations will outline their current problem, their goals, and create a realistic timeline for their completion in front of their fellow members in the General Assembly for the purposes of publicly announcing their plans and creating a system of accountability. Under this model, nations would be expected to follow up with the General Assembly every two years to report their progress.

It is also important for member-states to see the intersectionality between these issues and develop models to tackle them simultaneously. For example, if we do not improve maternal health, then we cannot reduce childhood mortality, and if we do not reduce childhood mortality, then there is no way to discuss universal primary education because kids will die before they reach school age. If we do not increase kids’ access to education, then we cannot empower women. Member-states as a whole must study the relationship between these issues, as opposed to viewing them separately, in order to get to the root of the problems.

If these proposals are implemented, I am confident in our ability to one day live in an environmentally sustainable world where every child has access to primary education. The key, however, is being realistic about it.


  1. United Nations, “Charter of the United Nations,” 24 October 1945. 1 UNTS XVI.
  2. United Nations Millennium Development Goals.” UN News Center. 2000. Accessed September 27, 2015.
  3. United Nations, Millennium Development Goals Report 2011, June 2011, ISBN 978-92-1-101244-6, available at: [accessed 27 September 2015]
  4. United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2013, 1 July 2013, ISBN 978-92-1-101284-2, available at: [accessed 27 September 2015]

Rory Mondshein is a Master’s candidate in Public Policy at the College of William & Mary and an Associate Editor of the William & Mary Policy Review.