By Jesper Frant
The 1,000-day milestone to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was on the minds of presenters and audience alike at the Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Seminar on April 4. The seminar gathered professors Jeffrey Sachs, Prabhjot Singh and Vijay Modi to take a critical look at how far the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) has come in the eight years since its founding and analyze what still needs to be accomplished.
Sachs kicked off the seminar with an overview of the MVP, which he described as showing a pathway to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in very poor settings in sub-Saharan Africa.
Given the time-bound nature of the goals, Sachs noted, “part of our self-assignment in this project is to run, to hurry, to try to meet a timetable, to try and promote action.” In a project like the MVP, where the goal is to break the cycle of extreme poverty, Sachs argued, “it’s better to try and miss than to slow down and not try.”
The MVP built off the epistemic community knowledge of development best practices, and initially started with the implementation of quick-wins – which include long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets and improved agricultural inputs to boost crop yield. The quick wins, while important, are only part of the equation. As the project moved forward, ideas about how to meet the MDGs evolved along with the Millennium Villages themselves.
Sachs described the next phase of the MVP as falling into four categories: moving from demonstration to design, expanding beyond interventions to systems-based approaches, harnessing the unprecedented expansion of information and communications technology, and integrating public investments with business.
This next phase can create an environment of innovation in the MVP that has fostered the creation of new approaches to development. The health sector, in particular, has experienced a sea change.
Singh explained that moving to a design and systems-based approach forced the MVP to rethink the delivery of healthcare in poor, rural settings. Improved primary health facilities, the project realized, only get you about half the way to achieving better health outcomes due to constraints on access.
Community health workers (CHWs) extend the reach of primary healthcare systems expanding access for the rural poor. The growth of mobile telecommunication has allowed the MVP to develop platforms to enable managers to monitor the CHWs they oversee in real-time. Actionable data not only empowers managers and health workers, it provides critical information on how to improve the health system and make it more adaptive.
CHW programs have been implemented across the Millennium Villages, but the CHWs must be scaled up across Africa in order to have a measurable impact on global development. The One Million Community Health Worker campaign aims to do just that.
With the 1,000-day MDG countdown underway, many countries are still far from achieving the MDGs, but new approaches to development born from the MVP have put ending extreme poverty within reach.
The Earth Institute’s Sustainable Development Seminar Series brings together Earth Institute faculty members and research scientists working across diverse disciplines to address and communicate the major challenges of sustainable development. Several seminars are hosted each semester, and the next seminar will take place in May.
Jesper Frant is a student in the Masters in Development Practice program and an intern at the Earth Institute.