I spent last week at the Clinton Global Initiative and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. There was much talking about issues of international development, about the rights of children to an education, about stopping children dying from preventable things like pneumonia, about making sure that the world is free from hunger. But in the midst of all this talking, I noticed that there was simply not enough of one thing—not enough shouting. We need louder voices to make changes on what really needs to be done for poor children and families around the world. Simply put, we need more people to care and speak out. Loudly.
Together with a group of experts, I spoke at last week’s Clinton Global Initiative on something I have become more and more convinced of the longer I do this work with Save the Children. The best investments we can make for children are those that are made early. The overwhelming evidence shows that if you want to spend money wisely on development, invest in early education and healthcare. The return on those investments will far surpass those you make later in children’s lives.
In fighting child mortality, we know that malnutrition is an underlying factor in nearly one-third of under 5 deaths. And malnutrition leads to the stunting of children – 170 million children who will never reach their full potential either physically or mentally. The cost of this burden on a country is substantial: a loss of 2-3% of GDP is the annual result of reduced productivity due to stunting. And in poor countries, the terrible burden of child deaths often comes in the very first month of life. In some countries like Nepal, where there has been significant progress
One of the most important things organizations like Save the Children have to do is to build coalitions of partners who share our interests in making life better for children. One of the key events of UN week was a star-studded event on Tuesday night, hosted by Ray Chambers, Special Envoy to Ban-KI Moon, which highlighted the health Millennium Development Goals. There is lots of hard work that has to happen to make the goals by 2015.
One of the keys, whether you are talking about the death of moms in childbirth or saving the lives of newborns and kids under 5, is getting a health worker within reach of every child and mother. With the help of stars like 50 Cent, Jennifer Connelly, Christy Turlington Brown, and even the Muppets, thousands attending learned how much more we need to do and the power of health workers in getting it done. It ended with some rousing dancing to the African artist Youssou N’Dour and lots of tired people heading off to bed!
Wednesday morning started early with a 7:30 am breakfast panel ” Saving Lives on the Frontline” on our key issue of health workers. Dr Richard Besser of ABC moderated a panel which included Ray Chambers, our star midwife Dr Joan Shepherd from Sierra
Leone, Geralyn Ritter, the head of the Merck Foundation, our Chair Anne Mulcahy and me. We all spoke from our experiences in how these brave men and women are the true heroes who make a difference for kids in the developing world.
After a few more meetings with some of our key partners like Accenture, I headed over to the Clinton Global Initiative to join a panel on Early Childhood Development with George Rupp from IRC and others. The importance of Pre-school and early parenting interventions in helping kids stay in school is really becoming known and the audience was knowledgeable and interested in sharing their own experiences too. One of our toughest challenges is convincing governments that early school, prior to entering primary, is not a luxury, but an intervention we can’t afford not to make. There is clear research that these interventions have a terrific ROI, as great at 17:1 from some respected studies.
After listening to President Obama speak, the rest of my day was more meetings with our donors who were attending CGI as well as attending a fascinating panel on the Middle East and North Africa. I am heading to Egypt next month to visit our youth programs there so I was particularly interested in what some of the young people on the panel, including a princess from Saudi Arabia had to say!
I finally headed to bed late and pretty exhausted after one final reception…..
The last day of CGI started with another early breakfast, this one with health ministers from some key African countries. Our Save the Children CEO Jasmine Whitbread spoke eloquently about the importance of women and girls’ health in breaking the cycle of poverty and I learned that in several countries, up to 80 percent of children whose mothers die in childbirth will also die – shocking and sad stat to think about.
I ran back to CGI for an important press conference on the Horn of Africa and was joined by the head of ONE Michael Elliot, the CEO of Procter and Gamble Bob McDonald, the CEO of IMC and several others. We all highlighted the tremendous need in the Horn and the fact that the crisis could get even worse if rains don’t come soon. Hopefully the press will pick up as there continues to be very little interest and awareness of this dire crisis for children.
My final afternoon Thursday included several radio interviews on the Horn and then the closing session with President Clinton, Hillary and Chelsea. Hillary and Chelsea did a terrific interview (Chelsea grilled her Mom) which ranged from healthcare to the Arab Spring to Hillary’s technological abilities (apparently a little lacking!).
Given the 5 days I had been away from my own children, I headed back to CT with a few new blisters and a lot of new experiences and friends – many of whom I’ll call on to help in our mission to give children and their families more opportunities for a better life. Apparently I missed a final shout out by President Clinton to support Save the Children and others in responding to the Horn of Africa crisis at the Thursday night dinner but since I fell asleep on the train, I might have missed it even if I were there!
The whole experience reinforced for me the importance of building relationships and partnerships as we take on these major issues for children.