Making the Case for Leadership in the SDGs

Greg Olson

Communications Senior Associate

The United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. (Source:

2015—the finish line of the United Nations' grand experiment, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Framed in 2000, the MDGs represent a leap of faith by the global community to transform, through unified action, the lives of millions living under the threat of extreme poverty, malnourishment, inadequate health care, poor hygiene, and without dignity. 

As “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015”—released in early July—shows, significant progress has been made over the last 15 years, but the work is not complete. Among the MDGs’ eight goal framework, steady progress in the areas of child mortality, maternal health, and infectious diseases (goals 4, 5, and 6) have saved and impacted millions of lives around the world.

For some in developed countries, improving these three global health goals—and achieving all of the eight MDGs—may simply appear to be a factor of monetary assistance. Although providing strictly material support would improve some health and development outcomes, this assistance alone does not deliberately catalyze resilience, sustainability, or development. However, fostering leadership, management, and governance capacities can.

MDGs 4, 5, and 6 progress infographics. (Source: The Millennium Development Goals Report 2015)

When it comes to developing health systems, improving leadership, management, and governance skills prepares health leaders to better engage stakeholders, mobilize resources, and govern transparently. That sounds great, but what does it actually mean?

It means:

  • Leaders who can connect their community members with the health services they need, or partner with organizations that can help improve services;
  • Managers who can allocate limited funds for the correct amounts of medication, or distribute medications to the health centers that need them the most; and
  • Community health centers that prevent fraud by cultivating accountability, and Ministries of Health that formalize policies and decision-making in order to operate more transparently.

The LMG Project has helped advance MDGs 4, 5, and 6 through the Leadership Development Program Plus (LDP+) and technical assistance to partner organizations and ministries. In the areas of child, adolescent, and maternal health, leadership, management, and governance improvements have helped increase access to sexual and reproductive health services for vulnerable youth populations in Uganda; supported community health governance in Afghanistan, where volunteer community health workers provide more than 60 percent of family planning services; and increased deliveries with skilled birth attendants nearly 91 percent in Kenya.

Furthermore, in the areas of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other communicable diseases, the LMG Project has strengthened health systems and improved health service delivery. Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Project worked with civil society organizations to develop training tools that helped increase access to HIV/AIDS services for vulnerable populations. In Côte d’Ivoire, health workers implemented their LDP+ training to help increase antiretroviral drug retention rates among HIV/AIDS patients. Meanwhile, as part of LMG National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) support, the Liberian NMCP distributed more than 2.7 million long-lasting insecticidal nets, despite the ongoing Ebola crisis.

Graphs of improvements in antiretroviral drug retention rates in Cote d'Ivoire. (Source: LMG Project)

As the development and aid sector eagerly await September 2015 and the adoption of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we—as a global community—need to understand that sustained development is more than just individual, material interventions. Investing in, developing, and building resilient health systems means addressing the structural and social obstacles to progress. When we look forward to 2030 and beyond, it is imperative that our goals focus on helping local, regional, and national health leaders build teams, identify challenges, innovate solutions, and set a shared vision in order to foster the local ownership necessary for long-term improvements in health.

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