[Millennium Development Goals] that are psychologically, morally, and politically salient are more likely to change behavior. Terms like “maternal mortality ratio” and “halve the proportion” and “gender disparity” simply do not have the moral resonance of terms like “torture” or “dissidents.”
That is Varun Gauri, summarizing a World Bank working paper of his.
He argues that in the absence of “a system of legal accountability” to the world’s poor, the least that aid agencies can do is to become more accountable to their donors, the only people to whom they are de facto accountable anyway, and they can do that by choosing MDGs and targets and language that inspires them to do right by the world’s poor.
An interesting, if provocative idea. Provocative because the current zeitgeist is that if anything aid agencies need to become less accountable to their donors and more accountable to the poor (see here for example); and interesting for a lot of reasons, not least because it’s a product of realism, something I’d like to see more of in aid and development – it assumes that “there is no reason to expect” aid agencies to become any more or less accountable to the poor post-2015, so given that fact let’s just try to do our best within the bounds of what’s possible, as opposed to reaching for what’s desirable irrespective of expectations, by inspiring global citizens to press their governments to achieve the MDGs, even though they aren’t legally accountable to the world’s poor.
An alternative idea would be to flesh out what legal accountability might look like and see if that’s possible (it would seem to be desirable, and have something to do with democratic institutions).
There are lots of practical examples of what inspiration-in-lieu-of-accountability in a post-2015 MDG framework might look like. Here is one example, from Gauri’s working paper:
“If there is to be a target for official development assistance, for instance, the “standard” target of 0.7% of GNI, which has the disadvantage of including both a percent and technical term, should be replaced. A more salient number would be dollars of development assistance per person, from each donor country, which intuitively informs people how much of their tax money is going to development assistance, and allows them to compare that contribution to how much they spend on their own purchases. Consider, for instance, how much easier it would be to imagine the impact of a decline in ODA if it were expressed, not as a reduction from 0.5% to 0.27% of GNI, but as a contribution of, say, USD$218 person falling to $132 per person (roughly the decline in Austria from 2007 to 2011).”
PS — Gauri also proposes what I would call the “Inspiration Heuristic”:
“Before you propose a new MDG goal or target, ask your parents if they approve.”