MDGs: Why not ask the poor what they really need?

With less than 1,400 days to the Millennium Development Goals deadline, global development experts, bureaucrats and talking heads have already begun clamoring for what’s next. It seems that halving extreme poverty and slashing child deaths by two-thirds is yesterday’s news. As if these highly ambitious goals are rapidly becoming passé.

Collectively, we still have almost four years to make them happen – or at least go down swinging. To pull punches now would be a catastrophic failure of ambition, commitment, and courage. It would mean more people stuck in extreme poverty, more children dying of preventable causes, and fewer kids getting the opportunity to read and write. The development community’s attention deficit disorder is extremely disheartening.

Also disappointing is how the MDGs 2.0 intelligentsia is going about their bureaucratic business. Yet as academics, government officials, activists and international bureaucrats book their flights for the endless onslaught of meetings and seminars, there will be one important voice missing from the conference table. The world’s poorest citizens. Yes, everyone purports to be speaking on their behalf – yet, no one truly does so. How can they? Despite our best intentions, emotional and analytical biases, not to mention the cause célèbre, tend to distort the message. Discussions invariably degenerate into politically charged fights over what we think poor people want. Or worse yet, what we think they should want.


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