The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were very ambitious and are absolutely central to the whole notion of public impact. The 2015 Millennium Summit, held at the UN’s headquarters in New York, was an opportunity to look forward to the new challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals and to consider the progress made against its past goals, the MDGs.
The UN’s challenges are broad and far-reaching. In 2000, the 189 member states came together at the Millennium Summit and defined eight challenges, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) :
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a Global Partnership for Development.
Many commitments were drawn from the agreements and resolutions of world conferences and summits organised by the UN during the preceding decade.
A year later, the UN Secretary-General published a roadmap for implementing the MDGs, supported by 18 quantified and time-bound targets and 48 indicators. The MDGs focused the world community’s efforts on achieving significant, measurable improvements in people's lives by 2015.
They established yardsticks for measuring results—not just for developing countries but for the rich countries that help fund development programmes and for the multilateral institutions, such as the European Union, and the NGOs that help implement them. These commitments were regularly monitored and the data was gathered and published annually by UN agencies.
The public impact
Impact can be measured in terms of the progress made in meeting the UN’s goals and the scale of the initiatives created in order to do so. Many of these initiatives are described in our corpus of case studies, such as the WHO’s Roll Back Malaria project. For example, we can see that there has been significant impact in addressing the fourth goal, reducing child mortality:
- The global under-five mortality rate declined by more than half.
- The number of deaths of under-fives declined from to 9.8 million in 2000 to under 6 million in 2015. 
- In sub-Saharan Africa, the annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality was over five times faster during 2005–2013 than it had been during 1990–1995.
There has also been progress in addressing the sixth goal, of combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases:
- New HIV infections fell by approximately 40 percent from 2000 to 2013, from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million.
- By June 2014, 13.6 million people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally, an increase from just 800,000 in 2003.
- Over 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted from 2000 to 2015. The global malaria incidence rate has fallen by an estimated 37 percent and the mortality rate by 58 percent.
- More than 900m insecticide-treated mosquito nets were delivered to malaria-endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa from 2004 to 2014 .
- From 2000 to 2013, tuberculosis prevention, diagnosis and treatment interventions saved an estimated 37 million lives.
- Measles vaccination helped prevent nearly 15.6 million deaths from 2000 to 2013. The number of globally reported measles cases declined by 67 percent for the same period.
It is hoped that an equivalent level of public impact will be achieved by the goals set at the 2015 Millennium Summit: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which have a similar 15-year lifespan. Have an idea for a case study? Print
What did and didn't work
Stakeholder Engagement Strong
Widespread consultations with various stakeholders and the MDGs were designed in the light of various discussions in the UN:
- As part of the preparation, consultations were held among members of the UN Secretariat and representatives of the IMF, the OECD and the World Bank in order to harmonise reporting on the development goals in the Millennium Declaration.
- The UN Secretariat invited all relevant institutions to participate in and contribute to global and country-level reporting with a view to issuing an annual UN report that has the wide support of the international community and that can be used by other institutions in their regular reporting on the goals involved.
Political Commitment Strong
The fact that in 2000 the 189 UN member states of the UN came together at the Millennium Summit and adopted the Millennium Declaration was a very public commitment to the principles embodied in the MDGs.
Clear Objectives Strong
For each of the eight MDGs, quantifiable objectives were identified at the outset itself to help measure progress on a regular basis. These objectives take the form of 18 quantified and time-bound targets and 48 indicators.
The MDGs were designed based on the issues discussed in various UN summits. The commitments were drawn from the many agreements and resolutions of world conferences and summits organised by the UN during the preceding decade summits.
The funding required for the programmes associated with achieving the MDGs came from UN member countries and partner organisations.
These goals, and the commitments of countries to achieve them, were affirmed in the Monterrey Consensus that emerged from the UN Financing for Development Conference in March 2002 and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in September 2002 and the launch of the Doha Round on International Trade.
There was a commitment to innovative sources of financing for development, including efforts by groups of countries to implement an International Finance Facility and other initiatives to finance development projects, in particular in the health sector.
There was an agreement to consider additional measures to ensure long-term debt sustainability through increased grant-based financing and the cancellation of 100% of the official multilateral and bilateral debt of heavily indebted poor countries.
In order to gauge the level of resources required, the UN Millennium Project conducted an extensive bottom-up assessment of the investments needed to achieve the MDGs in a cross-section of low-income countries. Some of the goals themselves, such as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, were expressed as aspirations rather than achievable objectives, although others, such as improving maternal health were clearly feasible, given the necessary commitment and resources.
In close collaboration with agencies and organisations within and outside the UN system, the UN Statistics Division coordinated the preparation of data analysis to assess progress made towards the MDGs. It maintains the database containing the data series related to the selected indicators, as well as other background series intended to supplement the official indicators.
Efforts are made to ensure that data on the indicators collected at country levels are in accordance with the requirements of MDG framework.
Information on the indicators is compiled by specialised agencies and drawn from national statistics provided by governments to the international statistical system – the UN Statistics Division and the statistical offices of the various agencies. This information forms the basis of measuring the progress of the MDGs, and there is a website devoted to MDGs indicators. 
There is evidence of the UN’s efforts to keep the various stakeholders aligned on goals and monitoring:
- Consultations were held among members of the UN Secretariat and representatives of IMF, OECD and the World Bank in order to harmonise reporting on the development goals in the Millennium Declaration.
- There was close collaboration with agencies and organisations within and outside the UN system.
- The UN Statistics Division coordinated the preparation of data analysis to assess progress made towards the MDGs.