Feature September-November 2006
Millennium Promise Alliance -- Mobilizing the private sector to meet the MDGs
The decision by financier and philanthropist George Soros to invest $50 million to demonstrate that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can be met in dozens of African villages is a substantial vote of confidence, not only in the Africans struggling to lift themselves out of poverty, but in the organization created to assist them in that goal.
Soros' gift, announced in September, is the largest single contribution to date in support of the Millennium Villages project. The initiative is based on the concept that impoverished communities can transform themselves and meet the MDGs if they are empowered with practical technologies, implemented by villages in an integrated manner.
The Millennium Villages project was developed by a team of experts guided by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the UN Millennium Project and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Launched in two pilot communities in Sauri, Kenya, and Koraro, Ethiopia, there are now 78 Millennium Villages in ten countries in sub-Saharan Africa. About 400,000 rural residents across Africa are benefiting from the project.
Building coordinated action to address global poverty
The contribution from Soros is being matched by other private sector donors, according to Jeff Flug, a Wall Street veteran who joined the Millennium Promise Alliance as CEO and Executive Director in March. The Alliance was founded in 2005 by Sachs and Raymond Chambers, a prominent US philanthropist and business leader (see related story). The campaign has raised more than $100 million to support Millennium Villages, the flagship initiative of the Millennium Promise Alliance.
The funds are used to provide proven interventions such as bednets to prevent malaria; fertilizers to replenish depleted soils; school lunches for malnourished children; treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS and other tried-and-true approaches to controlling the symptoms and effects of extreme poverty.
Millennium Promise is building coordinated action among individuals, governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations to address the root causes and symptoms of extreme poverty. Its partners are contributing not only cash, but in-kind donations. Sumitomo Chemical, for example, has donated over 330,000 Olyset® anti-malaria bed nets -- worth around $2 million -- to the Millennium Villages effort, enabling at least half a million people to be protected from exposure to malaria.
Tapping innovations in business and philanthropy
"Most businesses and philanthropists who are interested in working in the poorest places do not have effective ways to do so right now," Sachs said. "They want to fit their efforts into an overall strategy and to bring innovative business thinking to bear." Millennium Promise, building on the recommendations of the UN Millennium Project, is working with private-sector leaders to help put that overall strategy in place.
"We look to business and financial leaders for ideas, management, and technology. There's going to be a tremendous amount of learning about best approaches, and the creative leadership of the private sector will be invaluable," said Sachs.
In addition to the broad-based approach of Millennium Villages, Millennium Promise is also supporting independent appeals targeting specific factors contributing to extreme poverty, such as diseases like malaria.
"One of the greatest tragedies is that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds, and the majority of those deaths could be prevented with a simple mosquito net, or bednet," said Chambers, co-founder and chairman of the board of Millennium Promise Alliance.
Raising global awareness
Millennium Promise has mounted a campaign, called Malaria No More, to educate the public about the disease and its solutions while raising funds to provide insecticide-treated bednets to everyone at risk and support other prevention and treatment activities.
As part of this effort, Chambers said, executives of the Internet service Yahoo have agreed to launch an appeal to Yahoo users to donate $10 for a bednet. Millennium Promise has formed an alliance with the United Nations Foundation, Red Cross and UNICEF focusing on bednets, and is reaching out to corporations in the media and communications field to help raise public awareness on the issue.
Millennium Promise is also playing a key role helping to organize the December 2006 White House Summit on Malaria. The Summit aims to build on the momentum of the President's Malaria Initiative, announced in June 2005. The $1.2 billion, five-year program seeks to cut malaria-related deaths by 50 percent in 15 countries in Africa.
The Millennium Promise Alliance not only provides a mechanism to enlist new support for the campaign to eradicate global poverty but coordinates and supports ongoing efforts by a diverse array of entities.
Creating a blueprint for collaboration on MDGs
"I've met with a number of NGOS and each of them talked about the Millennium Development Goals, but they were not planning and executing together. Some of them said, we're all like musicians in need of a conductor of a symphony and we think Millennium Promise could be that - the conductor of the symphony," said Chambers.
Millennium Promise retained strategic consultants McKinsey & Co. to help develop a roadmap "where each NGO, each corporation, each government, would have a role toward a cohesive effort to achieve the MDGs," Chambers said. McKinsey and Millennium Promise are in the midst of mapping the roles of various organizations active in Africa "to see where the overlaps are and to see how they could be helpful to one another."
Meanwhile, the earliest Millennium Villages experiments have been yielding promising results. In Sauri, Kenya, committees of elders have taken responsibility for the new investments in health, food production, education, access to clean water, and essential infrastructure. According to Glenn Denning of the Millennium Project's Nairobi office, the incidence of malaria in Sauri has dropped by at least 50% since the distribution of free bednets.
Millennium Villages: harvesting promising results
Chambers, who accompanied Sachs to Sauri earlier this year and met many of the local residents, said the village's harvest was four times larger than the previous year's. "Jeff has done so many things right -- for example, he made a deal with the farmers, that if they had a bumper crop, they'd donate 10% of the harvest to a free lunch program, and school attendance went from less than 20% to 100%," he said. "One woman summed it up best - she said, two years ago we were starving, and now we are not."
"The villages are the real-time, live demonstration that the Millennium Development Goals work," said Chambers. The plan is to present the successful results of the Millennium Villages to the G-8 Summit in Germany in 2007, and the NGOs with whom Millennium Promise is working intend to build a significant media campaign around the event to raise global awareness about the MDGs.
"As a result of getting involved with Jeff Sachs and the Millennium Promise Alliance, I've learned a lot more about what's going on in other parts of the world and how important the help from US philanthropy, US business, US government, really is," says Chambers. "I'm fairly certain that the more the private sector is engaged, the more likely government support will be to grow."
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