A better SDGs – here’s the thing:

The case for radical downsizing of the UN’s post-2015 wish list

The latest incarnation of the UN’s proposals for the SDGs – the Sustainable Development Goals designed to replace the MDGs after 2015 – are, much like the previous version, a bit of a wish-list of nice ideas rather than a prioritized set of achievable goals.

It’s understandable; once someone suggests perhaps targeting reductions in road deaths, increased registration of children, or reform of the financial sector, would you really want to be the one to say no, just to keep the list down to a manageable number? But eight original MDGs was probably too many – surely only the deepest development nerds can remember all of them – and the new proposals have 17!  This is surely a recipe for confusion, especially given that the 17 include such achievable, measurable goals as “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” (If we could figure that out, it would be not only the end of poverty, but the End of History, Fukuyama-style.)

But griping is easy. Those of us who would like a set of SDGs we can explain to our relatives without embarrassment need to speak up and make the case for a shorter list that actually prioritises our development challenges – and that means leaving something out. As Warren Buffett knows and the SDG process has forgotten, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Imagine a better SDGs: a list that was challenging but achievable, that was measurable, and above all, which prioritized the most urgent problems. A list that was short and memorable, and whose selectiveness sent a powerful message: this is no wish list. We’re serious about achieving these.

Here’s my take on a list which is short, memorable and punchy.

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