It was a terrific final day at the U.N. for Melinda and me today. The highlight was our chance to address the members of the General Assembly at a special meeting to discuss the Millennium Development Goals’ progress and their renewal after they expire in 2015.
It was a tremendous honor that they asked us to join this meeting and gave us the chance to give our own thoughts along with the many heads of state and other dignitaries who took to the podium. For an enterprise that was looked at with some real skepticism in the beginning (including by me), it was amazing to see person after person speak about the remarkable accomplishments it has facilitated—leading to remarkable improvements in the lives of the poor. Melinda said it very nicely in her remarks:
“Behind these numbers are men and women who today have a better chance to realize basic aspirations that aren’t so different from anyone in this room: a healthy, happy family; the joy of watching your children grow; the freedom that comes with education; the dignity of being treated as an equal.”
I followed her and spoke about my hopes for the new goals to follow in 2015. For me, it is critical that they focus on extreme poverty. The MDGs are the most successful antipoverty initiative the world has ever undertaken. And they should remain both ambitious and pragmatic—because that is part of the genius of the first set of goals. That means they need to be measurable, actionable, and based on a wide consensus. The focus of the first set of MDGs contributed to their success, so it will be important to resist the temptation to throw in a large number of other concerns as they are renewed.
But I’m optimistic. I closed my short remarks with something of a pep talk for the delegates who will be doing the heavy lifting to get this next set of MDGs agreed to:
“We have a special opportunity. By 2030, if we stay on track, it is reasonable to predict that we’ll be very close to global equity in key categories. If we get this right, we can 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.”
And I closed with a promise that our foundation will help any way that we can.
After our speeches, we did a bit of “stumping” for the MDGs with interviews with CNN International and the BBC. Not surprisingly, we were asked about the shocking tragedy in Kenya. But we both saw a link between giving people a real chance at a healthy and productive life and the reduction of these kinds of terrible acts. The MDGs are an important step in the right direction.
Melinda and I were able to speak with Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Over the years, both countries have been important supporters of development aid, we took the opportunity to update them on worldwide vaccination efforts and on the progress of the polio eradication work.
Melinda joined Prime Minister Harper in an event hosted by the Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child initiative, which is focused on the unfinished agenda of the MDGs with regard to women and development. Also participating were President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, PM Jens Stoltenberg of Norway, and the Director-General of the WHO, Margaret Chan. In her remarks, Melinda talked about her own experience in seeing how women drive development. She also urged that the next set of MDGs be even more driven by data and measurement than the first set (themes that are dear to my heart), because that’s the best way to ensure that our efforts do the most good for women and children.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was in the midst of his busiest week of the year, but he invited us to visit him briefly. Besides thanking him for his hospitality, we expressed our gratitude for his leadership on the MDGs and his remarkable support for the effort to eradicate polio. Getting to spend time with him and with the WHO’s Margaret Chan was really encouraging as we tackle this tough but important challenge.
My last appointment of the day was a short visit with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, famous anti-apartheid activist and former South African politician who is the first female head of the African Union Commission. Because so much of our work touches Africa, I was happy to get the chance to speak with her and update her on our concerns and hopes for our work there.
This is a crazy week. With so many heads of state and other VIPs in Manhattan, it’s easy to see why locals complain about the traffic and congestion. But it is a remarkable intersection of people and causes—and a worthwhile place for Melinda and me to spend time as we work on the issues that we’re so passionate about. Being in the company of so many others who share our optimism about improving the lives of the world’s poorest made the trip completely worthwhile.