The Roman philosopher Seneca observed that “if a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” Two millennia later, this remains a timeless reminder of the importance of setting goals. Despite the cynicism frequently associated with such aspirations, the truth is that goals are invaluable—focusing minds, forging partnerships, and, ultimately, finding solutions.
Seneca’s observation is especially relevant this year, as the international community comes together to agree on the next phase for development through 2030 and beyond. Crucial decisions will be made across the board—from the financing framework, to environmental targets, to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This opportunity likely will not repeat itself for at least a generation.
Significant strides have been made since the MDGs were adopted in 2000. These include three key “halvings”—of global poverty, of the likelihood of a child dying before age five, and of the proportion of people without access to safe water. But progress has varied. Although a number of developing countries have graduated to “frontier” status, some fragile and conflict-affected states have tragically fallen behind.
We must also consider how much the world has changed over the past 15 years. The global economy has become increasingly interconnected through technology, trade, and finance, leading to larger spillovers across borders and greater interdependence among countries. The rise of many emerging market economies has contrasted with setbacks in advanced economies hit hard by the Great Recession.