Twelve years ago, when I was working at the UN, I had the opportunity to be part of something special – helping create the goals and targets that enabled the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to drive the most successful anti-poverty initiative the world has ever undertaken.
Now, as I assume responsibility for the Gates Foundation’s Global Policy and Advocacy efforts, I feel fortunate to be part again of the global conversation about a new set of development goals that build on the MDGs after they expire in 2015, pushing forward the agenda to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, and disease.
Two things make me optimistic that we have a unique opportunity to make a game-changing difference. One is that the MDGs showed the world how well-constructed goals with motivating outcomes, clear and feasible targets, and firm deadlines can help us drive better partnerships that accelerate progress. Another is that we now have a more refined understanding of how the foundation can engage with partners to achieve the best results, particularly at the country level.
This week, I’ve had the chance to share my thoughts with an official UN forum working on these new post-2015 global development goals. I’ve taken advantage of this opportunity to think about the lessons I’ve learned in seven years at the foundation – and to imagine what the future could be like if we are able to do our best work.
One lesson is that we need to think broadly about how the foundation can have the greatest impact tackling the big challenges in global health and development. Although grantmaking is still an important piece of what we do, a growing part of our work now is about partnering with governments, other donors, international development organizations, civil society, and the private sector. We bring a variety of tools and capabilities to these engagements: funding, the programmatic expertise of our employees, the power to convene stakeholders, and the influence of our leaders, especially Bill and Melinda Gates.
The success of global partnerships such as the GAVI Alliance, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, reflect our support for innovative and well-coordinated approaches that link the needs of developing countries with the generosity of government donors and the expertise of key partners. These collaborations have galvanized traditional donor support and aligned it with developing country-led plans, driving real results such as the unprecedented global reduction in child mortality we have seen in recent years. Last week’s Global Fund Replenishment session, the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and the London Summit on Family Planning in 2012, underscore the growing consensus about the impact of effective global partnerships.
While we continue to build our long-standing partnerships with donors in all regions, another lesson we’ve learned is that it’s important to work directly with governments to support the kinds of investments and policy choices necessary to turn their countries around quickly. That’s why you see us now focusing on high-burden countries such as Ethiopia, and high-density poverty states in India and Northern Nigeria. Although our staff and physical presence are limited to a few countries – Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, India, and China – the important shift is that we are focusing more of our work at the country level. Working directly with government leaders helps us better understand the challenges each country faces, and how best to support their vision, goals, and national development plans. It also helps unify and coordinate the development efforts of other partners.
For instance, last month, I met with officials at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), which is focused on the country’s agricultural sector – a substantial contributor to the national economy. Prompted by the 2007-2008 global food crisis, Ethiopia’s prime minister in 2009 invited us to work with the government on a plan to strengthen the country’s agricultural capacity. That effort led to the formation of the ATA, which works with the Ministry of Agriculture and other partners to help smallholder farmers increase their productivity, tap new markets, and improve their livelihoods.
This initiative has mobilized other donors – including USAID, the World Bank, and our foundation – to support Ethiopia’s ambitious agenda. Early results are promising. In 2012, more than 500,000 farmers received training in new agricultural practices that are expected to significantly increase yields and reduce post-harvest losses. Efforts are also underway to link smallholder farmers with new markets and strengthen farmer cooperatives.
The foundation is now building on these lessons, working in partnership with Nigeria and Tanzania on their agricultural development strategies, and supporting efforts by the African Union during the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program, to energize similar efforts across the continent.
In global health, we are supporting a broad range of efforts by national governments and leaders to improve the delivery of basic health services. In Senegal, for example – where the percentage of women with access to modern contraceptives has historically been low – a new delivery system for contraceptives modeled on the retail sector is helping ensure that local health centers are stocked with the contraceptives women need to plan their families. This flows out of Senegal’s own commitment made at the London Summit on Family Planning, which helped align donor resources and expertise behind its pioneering leadership in advancing women’s health.
Working directly with countries in this way will enable us to pair strong country knowledge with global expertise. It’s an opportunity for us to take our work to the next level so we can support countries to harness their domestic resources, get the most out of the aid they receive, continue to take control of their futures, and drive progress.
One of the great things about my new position is that it enables me to draw on my previous experience both at the UN and the foundation. I appreciate the critical role that governments and their leaders play in shaping and driving progress for their countries. I also get to work with colleagues and our partners to explore how the foundation and other development actors can most effectively collaborate to increase impact.
Most importantly, I’m excited about the opportunity to continue to learn how we can keep driving poverty down and achieve a world in which a child from a poor country is as likely to survive and thrive as a child in a rich country.