The World Economic Forum’s Global Development Outlook


For the past four days, business, government and civic leaders from all over the world have convened in Davos, Switzerland, participating in the 2013 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum – a gathering intended to address major issues of global importance, and to brainstorm solutions to current challenges. Yesterday, a session on The Global Development Outlook had an impressive lineup of panelists assess and evaluate the progress of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), as well as discuss the best way forward. In September 2000, world leaders came together at the Millennium Summit at United Nations Headquarters to adopt a declaration wherein they committed to a global partnership aimed at reducing poverty, laying out a series of targets to be achieved by 2015. These targets comprise the eight Millennium Development Goals, and are as follows:

End Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Achieve Universal Primary Education

Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Reduce Child Mortality

Improve Maternal Health

Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Yesterday’s panel, moderated by journalist Thomas L. Friedman, discussed how far we’ve come toward achieving these goals and offered insights into what could be done better. The panel included UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Queen Rania of Jordan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Bill Gates, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President and CEO of CARE USA Helene Gayle, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman. A video of the entire session can be viewed here. The panelists seemed to agree that great strides have been made in the time since these goals, which Ban Ki-Moon described as a move toward “sustaining the Earth in a sustainable and hospitable way,” were adopted. Bill Gates cited a statistic that global rates of child mortality have reduced by 50%, calling it a success “measured in millions of lives.” Calls for improvement came in the context of ensuring that all stakeholders – not just governments – have a voice in these efforts, and that those countries and communities most directly affected by extreme poverty are heard.

Bill Gates also brought up the idea of introducing a quality metric to the education goal, arguing that better teachers are the key to quality education. This sparked what I thought to be some of the most poignant comments during the session. Queen Rania told a story about visiting a school in a remote village in southern Jordan, where she observed the creative writing class of a group of 12-year-old girls. She was struck by one girl in particular who stood up and talked about her grandmother, who had been a well-known storyteller in their village, famous for her retellings of folk tales. Queen Rania recounted how the girl told her classmates, ‘My grandmother narrated other people’s stories. I want to narrate my own.’ The Queen said she felt a sense of pride in knowing that this girl “had the kind of education that’s empowering her to be the author of her own future.” She gave all the credit to well-trained teachers, exclaiming, “Good teachers teach. Great teachers transform. They can be drivers of change.”

It is heartening and inspiring to see global leaders come together not only to take action to improve the world we all inhabit, but to directly and unequivocally acknowledge the role that quality education must play in effecting positive change. Yesterday’s panelists spoke of eradicating poverty as a multi-stakeholder effort, because we all do have a stake. This past Monday here in the US we observed the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

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