The Millennium Development Goals that were framed in 2000 did not shy away from ambition. A United Nations-sponsored summit 12 years ago set eight targets, from the eradication of extreme poverty and the tackling of disease epidemics to universal primary education and gender equality. All of this, to be achieved by 2015, would fundamentally transform the lives and opportunities of people living in the poorest and most troubled circumstances in the world.
It is unsurprising that many of these goals are far from being realised. The MDG initiative has been criticised as unmeasurable and impractical, and cynics simply rubbish it as pie-in-the-sky idealism.
Those critics might want to think again. In a report this month, Unicef found that its goal regarding safe drinking water had already been achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. For those of us who take clean water for granted, this may sound like a modest accomplishment; for the two billion humans who have gained access to safe drinking water in the last 20 years, it is a matter of life and death.
Safe drinking water is only one goal among many, and much more work is to be done. But this milestone shows the achievement that is possible when we dare to set ambitious goals.