Prioritization and Domestication of the Sustainable Development Goals

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world despite significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth. The country’s development is guided by the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), a series of five-year plans that contribute to the long-term goals outlined in Vision 2020. At the end of the implementation of MGDS II in 2016, some successes were registered: on average Malawi’s GDP grew by 4.5% over the MGDS II period. Progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals was mixed as the country achieved four of the eight MDGs: reducing child mortality; combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for Development. Malawi is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing nearly 80% of the population, and it is vulnerable to external shocks, particularly climatic shocks.


The Government of Malawi is finalizing the MGDS III to guide Malawi’s progress towards a prosperous, sustainable and equitable society over the 2017-2022 period. Millennium Institute, in partnership with the Government of Malawi and UNDP conducted an assessment to identify the priority actions that would  catalyze attainment of the MGDS III objectives in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Key Policy Insights and Recommendations

  • Need for integrated policies to foster SDG attainment. The analysis results demonstrate the interconnectivity between the SDG targets. Actions taken to achieve an SDG target can influence other targets within the SDG system in ways that are often unforeseen and unpredictable. The central message from the analysis is that there should be no silo budgeting, no silo planning, but all must gravitate towards integrated approaches on planning and budgeting to capitalize on the multiplier effects in the SDGs. High leverage policies have the ability to bring about compounding returns through reinforcing feedbacks in the SDG system.

  • There is a strong rationale to develop a co-financing mechanism and reallocate funds across many SDG sectors. For example, by reallocating incremental funding received to the health sector, SDG 1 and SDG 8 sectoral targets improve beyond the target achievement possible from their own sector investments. The poverty alleviation or social protection sector would experience nearly 2.5 million fewer person-years lived below the poverty line over the 15-year period, while the industry and labor sector would see nearly half a million fewer person-years of unemployment and about 740,000 additional person-years of being in education, training or employment among young people.

  • Increase the percentage of health expenditure targeted to reproductive health and family planning. Currently this proportion is less than 1 percent of GDP. Model simulations show large benefit from increasing this percentage to around 2 percent of health expenditure. Not only are per capita resources and services improved in all sectors, but gender equity (SDG 5) is greatly improved.

  • Increase expenditure for capacity building in sustainable agriculture.  Sustainable, low external input agriculture improves yields and agriculture production over the longer run. Sustainable agriculture can reduce chemical runoff, improving water quality and biodiversity, potentially leading to improved fishery and aquaculture production and, hence, food security.

  • Increase investment in transportation infrastructure. Expanded transportation infrastructure favorably impacts health, education, industry development and sets in motion self-reinforcing feedback loops for economic growth.

  • Increase investment for climate change mitigation. This impacts a number of other SDGs, such as sustainable cities (SDG 11), poverty (SDG 1), and health (SDG 3), which in turn have knock-on effects on other sectors.

  • Improvement in governance and institutions. There are strong linkages and potential favorable impacts in the majority of SDG sectors with improvements in governance.

  • Early investment in SDG policies.  Simulation tests for SDG attainment show that early investment is important for efficient attainment. Early investment gives more time for reinforcing loops to drive progress in SDGs.  For example, investment in sustainable agriculture increases agricultural production, increasing GDP and then the amount of investment funds available for more investment in sustainable agriculture and other SDG policies.



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