Recognising the achievements, addressing the challenges and getting back on track to achieve the MDGs by 2015

United Nations General Assembly
Thematic Debate on the Millennium Development Goals
New York, New York
April 1, 2008

Thank you for that warm welcome.   And thank you President Kerim for inviting me to be here.

It’s always great to be back at the UN because this is where the most important work in the world is happening. 

The Millennium Development Goals are a reflection of that work and your commitment.  

If we don’t make progress on the MDG’s, we’re going to have more war and conflict.   Recent studies have confirmed what our instincts tell us – peace and poverty have a strained relationship.   If we end poverty, the world will be a more peaceful and secure place.    

Ending poverty will also help the global economy.  Any businessman or woman worth their salt knows that leaving 30-50 percent of the world’s people out of global trade and commerce makes no sense – especially in today’s integrated global economy.  

If we achieve the MDG’s we’ve got a shot to preserve the Earth’s life support systems.    Good planets are hard to find and without one, we can pretty much forget about the future.  

Peace, prosperity and pollution provide the rationale for the MDGs and also help explain how interdependent we are in the 21st century. 
That’s why the eighth MDG – calling for a Global Partnership for Development – is probably the most important.   It reflects the fact that the fates of all people and nations are linked. Unless we can help the world’s poor create a better life, no one’s prosperity can be secure.
In an interdependent world, we all have roles and responsibilities to fulfill.  Donor nations have to honor their commitments to provide the support needed to achieve the MDGs.   Seven-tenths of one percent of the Gross National Product for development assistance is not unreasonable – in fact it should be a donor floor, not a ceiling.    It also is not unreasonable to expect recipients to make smart choices, adopt policies of good governance and assure that money is being well spent.    
But in today’s world, the global partnership needed to achieve the MDGs extends far beyond governments.   We can’t successfully address the world’s great global challenges unless businesses and NGOs, philanthropic leaders and the faith community work together.   

Ten years ago, I founded the United Nations Foundation to try and do my part as a businessman and philanthropist.   Over the past 10 years, the UN Foundation has emerged as a platform for connecting people, capital and ideas with the UN to help achieve the MDGs.   And we’ve had some real success.  

We’ve delivered some $1.2 billion in support of UN causes – and in the process helped to save children’s lives, empower women, advance clean energy solutions and harness technology for humanitarian and development purposes.  

Over time, we’ve realized that our real value is not in the number or amount of projects we start.   Our value is in forging partnerships between business, civil society and the United Nations.   When these sectors work together, there’s virtually nothing we can’t do:  

  • We have partnered with Rotary International, UNICEF, CDC, the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization to help push polio to the brink of eradication;
  • Our collaboration with the Vodafone Group Foundation is harnessing mobile phone technology to help the UN’s humanitarian relief and health efforts; 
  • We’re working with the NIKE Foundation, UN agencies and a broad coalition of NGOs to raise global priority for the rights and needs of adolescent girls;
  • We’re proud co-founders of the Measles Initiative, a remarkable collaboration with the Red Cross, CDC, UNICEF, and WHO that has reduced the African child mortality rate associated with measles by 70% over the past six years – ahead of schedule and under budget. 
  • And through our Nothing But Nets campaign we are working with an unlikely coalition of faith communities, the VH-1 television network, the NBA, and Major League Soccer to help provide bed nets for malaria prevention in Africa.

And there are many other exciting examples of public-private partnership – from the GAVI Alliance to the Global Water Challenge to the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria.   All of these are sorely needed demonstrations that people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and expertise can work together, and that we can succeed in building a better world.   

But to continue and expand on this, we need to set some key priorities that can help advance each and every MDG.  

First, we should make it a top priority to empower women and girls. 

Imagine what could be achieved if every woman and girl were allowed to develop to their full potential, had equal rights and every opportunity to contribute to their families, their communities and their countries. 

Imagine how maternal, child and family health would improve if women had ready access to clean water, reproductive health care and other essential services.  Imagine if every young girl completed secondary education and was not forced into a marriage she didn’t understand, wasn’t prepared for or never consented to?   

And imagine what kind of world it would be if these educated, healthy women were full participants in the social and economic life of their communities.

Imagine that kind of a world and you can begin to imagine the end of poverty.  

Two weeks ago, one of the UN Foundation staff was in East Africa where a young woman from Malawi said:  “If I ran a country we’d meet all the MDGs.”  I’m sure she’s right. We wouldn’t need the MDGs if women were in charge, and we can be certain that we won’t achieve them unless women are fully engaged in our global partnership to achieve the MDGs.

My second suggestion is that we prioritize creation of a new energy economy.   We know that we can’t achieve any of the MDGs without energy.  Nearly one third of the world’s people have no electricity.  More than a million people – mostly women – die every year from breathing wood smoke while they’re cooking.  But if we use coal and oil to get them electricity, we’re all going to be cooked – literally – from climate change.  We need a global partnership for development that’s built around the development and deployment of clean energy technologies. 

If we don’t get a handle on global warming, all of the efforts to achieve the MDGs will be compromised – and the people who have contributed the least to the problem will be the ones who will suffer the most from its consequences.

The good news about energy is that investors can see an opportunity.  They poured nearly $150 billion worldwide last year into renewable energy investments.  I believe they are going to transform the world’s energy systems in ways that will help with poverty alleviation and economic growth.  Small-scale systems will come down in price and provide the energy that is essential for human and economic development, even at village scale.  To do that, we need partnerships between governments and entrepreneurs, and between energy pioneers in the North and South, to make sure that these new technologies are available and affordable and scaled to the needs of developing countries.

My third and final suggestion is that we find ways to reach out to the world’s great religions and engage them even more in advancing the MDGs.   Faith leaders have a long history on the front lines of anti-poverty efforts.  These institutions have been feeding the hungry, educating the young and healing the sick longer than the UN has been in existence.  And they have a history of walking the talk by actively engaging their members in this great moral campaign for justice and human dignity.  

The UN Foundation has partnered with faith communities on a variety of different causes and efforts.   Later this month, we will join international faith and development leaders in Washington to forge a common agenda for empowering women and girls around the world. 

Today, I am pleased to announce a very special new initiative that we’ve been working on to take our malaria prevention efforts to an entirely new level.   This wouldn’t be possible with the leadership of the faith community.   And it just goes to show that you’ve got to have faith to build a better world.

I’d like to recognize Bishop Janice Huie of the United Methodist Church and Reverend John Nunes from Lutheran World Relief.   Together, we are announcing a new initiative to contribute to the internationally-agreed goal of eliminating malaria deaths.  As they have in the past, the Lutherans and Methodists are stepping up to provide moral and financial leadership.   They will reach out to their combined 25 million members in an effort to mobilize $200 million toward the elimination of malaria.   These funds will help eliminate malaria deaths by strengthening health systems, supporting the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria and advancing the churches’ on-the-ground health missions. 

This initiative significantly advances the UN Foundation’s ongoing efforts to forge malaria partnerships, such as the Nothing But Nets campaign which has engaged hundreds of thousands of individuals and raised over $18,000,000, and our ongoing work with Roll Back Malaria at WHO.  And we are proud that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported the development of our expertise in building malaria partnerships.  We will harness this expertise to help these faith leaders educate the public about malaria, advocate for a global response, mobilize funds and link their ongoing mission work with the global framework the UN and others have put in place to help eliminate malaria deaths. 

We hope that this new initiative will further demonstrate our commitment to working with you and your governments to address the diseases of poverty and realize the MDGs.   Malaria is a manifestation of poverty and its elimination will be a manifestation of our combined efforts to remove health burdens and allow developing countries to invest in sustainable development.

Stopping malaria will go a long way toward giving people in all countries new hope and confidence that we can succeed in the fight against poverty.

Hope and progress are the shared human aspirations that link all of us together – regardless of our faith, our history, or our circumstances.   And we, as leaders in the public and private sectors, have a special responsibility to break down the barriers that stand in the way of hope and progress. 

Some say that envisioning a world without poverty is naïve.    I say that accepting a world of rampant poverty is cowardly.   Some say that poverty alleviation hasn’t worked.  I say that we just haven’t tried hard enough.  Some say that they never heard about progress. I say that they just haven’t looked closely: 

  • In the past 15 years alone, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty fell from nearly 30% to less than 20%.
  • Smallpox has been eradicated and polio is right behind it.
  • The MDG’s have spurred dramatic progress in global education – more children are in school than ever before and the gender gap is slowly being closed.
  • Child mortality has declined globally and dipped below 10 million deaths annually for the first time ever.
  • Thanks to family planning programs, people are able to determine freely the number and spacing of their children and population growth rates have declined.

Poverty is on the run and we just need to keep chasing it down.    

On behalf of the UN Foundation and its hundreds of partners – including the leadership of the churches with us here today – I pledge to you that we will keep fighting.  

Thank you for being here today and thank you for your commitment and daily work on behalf of a better world.