In 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched by the United Nations and were replaced by the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which will run up until 2030.
Together, they represent a shift in development approaches away from purely economic development thinking in the 1980s and 1990s and towards a multilevel approach to poverty in the developing world. Focusing on economic development still, but also mental wellbeing, social development i.e. gender, as well as global public health, environmental sustainability, and universal primary education.
Their aim is to address a host of different issues relating to poverty and underdevelopment. Previously, the thought was that developing countries merely needed to focus on economic development and the rest would follow. Recently, that method of thinking has been made redundant and an awareness has emerged that not even fully developed states satisfy all the criteria for the goals. For instance, this is especially acute regarding say, gender development or environmental sustainability which were at the heart of the MDGs and continue to be in the SDGs.
This multilevel approach to human development is not new. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle thought this kind of approach to personal development would lead to ‘flourishing’ the highest goal of human development; that incorporates material wellbeing, sound mental and physical health, education, and involvement in public life. Today this line of thought has evolved in the work of the Indian economist Amartya Sen who argues for his ‘development as freedom’. The concept that development entails a set of linked freedoms, including political, economic protection, and freedom of opportunity. These are embodied in the current SDGs, for example SDG 16 works towards peace, justice, and strong institutions, and SDG 4 works towards quality education.
Here at COCO, this approach to development forms the bare bones of what we do. In the communities that we work with, we attempt to fulfil a range of their needs by simply asking what they would like from us. Yes, this takes the form of building schools, but it also includes working on sustainable agriculture to provide food for the community and helping sustain the local environment, helping girls attend to school and reduce social stigma around female education, whilst in turn increasing educational opportunities for its own good for mental well-being, community inclusion, and civic cohesiveness. This also necessitates our ability to think reflectively about the kind of work we do, and how that can evolve into the future.
Furthermore, both the MDGs and SDGs act as an external criterion for our work. Since our founding, our goals have been in unison with those of the MDGs and SDGs, and all our activities are logged, and data is kept on what goals these are working towards.
No doubt, in the future the goals will change and just like in the 1980s and 1990s our ideas of what development means will change to take stock of new ideas, necessities, and demands. However, COCO will always commit to help achieving universal education for children and the social and environmental goods that engenders in whatever form that takes.
Written by Scott Houghton, COCO Volunteer.