Gender Equality: Highest Priority!

Today there are many engines for positive change around the world, including powerful and inexpensive technologies, near-ubiquitous vaccines, and improving NGO-private sector collaboration in developing countries. But if I had to choose the one most important driver for good, it would be the empowerment of women.

While it’s dangerous to generalize about men and women, science does point to some important differences. “Research tells us that women invest more of their earnings than men do in their family’s well-being—as much as ten times more. They prioritize things like healthcare, nutritious food, and education. When a mother controls her family’s budget, her children are 20 percent more likely to survive—and much more likely to thrive.”*

Imagine if men and women were equal. Trillions of dollars would go toward health, education, food and childcare. While technology gains, civil society and anti-corruption programs are important, the change in priorities that would flow in the wake of gender equality would transform the world for good.

And many trends bode well. All over the world walls are coming down that have kept women out of male-dominated professions. Girls’ participation in education has grown a great deal in recent decades (see chart below), but atrocities against girls in Pakistan and Nigeria remind us that there are misanthropic (and misogynistic) forces that violently oppose female empowerment.


Chart: Female Secondary Education Participation, 1975 and 1997**

The Charlie Hebdo tragedy reminds us that we must stand for our values, even if our opponents are gun-toting nihilists. Like free speech, gender equality must be a highest priority.

*from “Why Development Begins with Women” by Melinda Gates


Millions of Children’s Lives, Simple Solutions

“In the category of stunning, heartening, woefully underreported good news: In 2000, an estimated 9.9 million children around the world died before age 5. In 2013, the figure was 6.3 million. That is 3.6 million fewer deaths, even as the world’s population increased by about 1 billion.”

This stat, from Michael Gerson’s article in the Washington Post, reflects the continuing avalanche of positive health trends of the last few decades. Gerson gives a shout out to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, an organization that supports vaccinations for some 60% of the world’s children. Gavi does what government programs try but usually fail to deliver–a successful program with low overhead that shuts down when the job is done. Gavi tapers off its subsidization of vaccines over time as local vaccination infrastructure scales up.

We all know how deep and detailed the reporting of the Ebola crisis was. (Now that it’s getting under control we hear much less.) But this much more important story–think of the thousands of children saved from death for every Ebola death–yet stories about vaccinations saving millions never make it to the front page.

Development Execs Bullish on Future

Devex, an organization for development executives, recently completed a survey where they collected “responses from nearly 1,000 leaders across six continents and varied organizations and industry sectors.” What did they find?

Executives based in Asia and Africa were the most optimistic about the future. Of Asia-based execs, 84% were optimistic about the coming years; 78% of Africa-based executives believe that the future is bright in development. At the lowest end of the spectrum? Europe-base executives at 70%, which is nonetheless quite heartening. Still, if executives working in Asia and Africa are the most optimistic, what does that say about the current conditions there, which so many in the West assume are discouraging?

Sixty-seven percent of executives believe that development will fundamentally change in the coming years.

And what driver of change do these execs think will have the most impact? The rise of developing countries. That’s right, not USAID or the UN or Bill and Melinda Gates. The DEVELOPING countries. The rise of the rest.

For those of us hooked on news of Ebola and beheadings and airstrikes, we wonder what the world’s coming to. In Asia and Africa, the people on the ground see things getting better and better.

Check out the report on the Devex website:

7,256 Fewer Child Deaths Each Day

If you don’t think that foreign aid and development work work, check this out: 7,256 fewer children die every day thanks to the success of programs in developing countries combating infant death from diarrhea, malnutrition, pneumonia, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

“If you compare today to the year 2000, there are now 7,256 fewer children dying every single day. If that doesn’t seem like a big deal, read it again, or think of it this way—there are 2.56 million fewer infant deaths each year compared to the year 2000. If you’re a parent, consider the 7,256 families that today did not have to contend with the death of their child.

And this progress isn’t just recent—it has been sustained in a slow march over decades. According to the World Bank, ‘In 1990, more than 12 million children in developing countries died before the age of 5 from diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition, pneumonia, AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. By 2012, that number had dropped to 6.6 million.'” —from Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Foreign Aid & Saving Millions of Children

“Can we use $30 of the taxes you’re already paying to protect 120 children from measles?”  Would you say yes or no?

Bill and Melinda Gates posed this question to readers of their 2014 Gates Annual letter. They’re trying to dispel the myth that US foreign health aid–primarily vaccines, family planning, drugs for people with HIV–is wasted. Of course, if you nose around any multi-billion-dollar budget, whether it’s Apple Computer or a government program, you will find waste. However, the impact of US foreign health aid–about $11 billion annually–has saved millions.

The Gateses “calculated the drop in child mortality since 1980, the start of the ‘Child Survival Revolution’ that made vaccines and oral rehydration therapy much more widespread. It comes to 100 million deaths averted.”

Sounds like a good investment to me.