The power of numbers

A panel discussion on the MDG targets and the road ahead towards defining achievable indicators for the Post-2015 agenda.

Event details

Date:25 September 2013
Venue:United Nations Headquarters, Conference Room A

Authors and researchers Sakiko Fukuda-Parr and Alicia Ely Yamin, together with professor Gita Sen will discuss lessons learned and where the Post-2015 agenda is headed. Introductory remarks by H.E. Mr. Néstor Osorio, Permanent Representative of Colombia to the United Nations and President of ECOSOC together with Ms. Ann-Sofie Nilsson, Director-General for International Development Cooperation at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden. Moderated by Ms. Annika Söder, Executive Director of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Sweden.

This event was organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Colombia and Sweden to the United Nations.

More about the Power of Numbers project can be found through Harvard.

Background Note

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were heralded as opening a new chapter in international development, and have led to the use of global goals and target setting as a central instrument defining the international development agenda. Despite this increased importance, little is understood about the ways in which global goals influence priorities and actions of key stakeholders, and the ensuing consequences.

This panel-discussion, conducted as a side event to the Special Event of the President of the General Assembly towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, on the 25th of September, highlights the key findings and conclusions of the Power of Numbers Project. The Project used eleven case studies to study the effects of selected MDG goals/targets, including both the empirical effects on policy priorities and normative effects on development discourses.

While the Project found that the effects varied considerably from one goal/target to another, all led to unintended consequences in diverting attention from other important objectives and reshaping development thinking. The Project suggests that target setting is a valuable but limited and blunt tool and makes proposals for refining the methodology for target setting and indicator selection.


Sakiko Fukuda-Parr is Professor of International Affairs at The New School in New York. Fukuda-Parr was previously a Director of UNDP and lead author of the agency’s Human Development Reports 1995-2004. Fukuda-Parr also founded the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. Fukuda-Parr is co-coordinator with Alicia Yamin of the research initiative, The Power of Numbers: Critical Review of MDG Targets for Human Development and Human Rights. She is also Vice Chair of the UN Committee on Development Policy.

Alicia Ely Yamin, JD/MPH from Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Public Health, is a Lecturer on Global Health and Director of the Program on the Health Rights of Women and Children at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. Yamin’s twenty-year career at the intersection of health, human rights, and development has bridged academia and activism. Yamin regularly advises UN agencies on global health, human rights, and development issues and she is at the forefront of the current Post-2015 global development processes.

Gita Sen, PhD from Stanford University, is professor of public policy at the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore and Adjunct Professor of global health and population at Harvard University. Sen is a founder and member of the Executive Committee of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) and member of the High Level Task Force for ICPD Beyond 2014. Sen has over 35 years of experience working nationally and internationally on development policies, specifically women’s human rights, gender equality, population policies, and reproductive and sexual health and rights.