President of Gates Foundation discusses UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Three years after the target date of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN has been working to achieve the more recently established Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With an end date of 2030, plants to achieve these SDGs are well underway. The World Affairs Council was joined on January 30, 2018 by Mark Suzman, President and Chief Strategy Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at Perkins Coie LLP to discuss how far we’ve come since the MDGs, and what needs accomplishing by 2030.

While objectives declared by the UN may seem unattainable, Suzman explained that the UN is actually quite good at goal setting. The MDGs, for example, were able to reduce poverty levels from 47% to 13% in 15 years, between 2000 and 2015. These goals, as well as the more recent SDGs, are in fact attainable because of the way they are framed. Both MDGs and SDGs have numerical dates and targets, as well as realistic expectations.

IMG_0007Outlining measurable targets was a key focus for the UN in order to achieve tangible results. However, while the UN was responsible for providing direction, the responsibility to integrate the MDGs into national interest and policy fell onto the developing countries most affected by poverty. International institutions simply served as a mechanism to give resources to bolster these efforts. Ultimately, the MDGs were implemented by civil societies and governments rather than through external force.

According to Suzman, the 17 SDGs are merely a more global and inclusive extension of the goals proposed by the MDGs. They were created because countries and their constituencies demanded an expansion to the MDGs, asking for the inclusions of gender rights and environmental protection as a thoughtful progression of global goals. These SDGs are accurate representations of a global agenda including different levels, they can be engaged at the international, national, provincial, or even city level.

IMG_0006In order to provide support for the developing countries working to achieve the SDGs, financing comes from three broad pools including private money, corporations, and investments; government investments; and foreign aid matching developing countries own internal investments. Aid comprises a small proportion of the investment capital so that nations have a better chance of owning their goal setting and integrate SDGs into policy.

Large corporations have expressed palpable enthusiasm for aligning with these goals and engaging in investment. The Gates Foundation, with a long history of development work, can provide larger initial investments that other individuals, organizations, or corporations may consider too risky. The foundation can help facilitate opportunities with which  governments and the private sector can engage once the projects are more stable.

Suzman, who recently attended the World Economic Forum 48th Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland in January 2018, said that the mood at the meeting concerning international development appeared complex. While traditional champions of the Gates foundation and active philanthropy tend to be the United Kingdom and the United States, Brexit and U.S. protectionism has curbed desire to invest in the SDGs. Though Suzman maintained that the SDGs can move forward successfully even without U.S. engagement, the lack of participation on behalf of the United State’s leaves a gaping hole in development agenda.