THE BLOG

A New Era of Poverty Reduction in Africa: A Perspective From the Millennium Villages

08/29/2013 08:38 am ET | Updated Oct 29, 2013

Many African nations are at an exciting moment in their social and economic development. The world's Millennium Development Goals -- adopted in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000 and designed to reduce extreme poverty and improve public health and education around the world by 2015 -- have proven to be very important as a spur to African progress in economic growth and development. We are now beginning to see the fruits of an important period in Africa's economic history.

As the directors of Columbia University's Millennium Development Goal Centers for East and West Africa, we've had the tremendous honor to witness firsthand how nations are transforming themselves, lives are being saved and, indeed, economic growth is taking hold thanks to greater focus and quality of economic, health, and infrastructure policies.

Since 2005, when we first launched the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in Kenya and Ethiopia, we have been working closely with governments and communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The Millennium Villages Project has worked in the very poorest rural areas using a holistic strategy to tackle issues of public health, education, agriculture, nutrition, clean water and energy in an integrated manner. The communities are implementing innovative solutions including the mass distribution of anti-malaria bed nets; the deployment of smartphones to support the effectiveness of community health workers; and the design and implementation of new micro-grids running on solar power.

The MVP focuses on giving villagers training and tools to build a solid base for sustainable development. The essential key to making the program work has been a combination of new global technologies, strong local expertise, and locally tailored solutions, with communities deeply involved in devising solutions. Hundreds of local people, from village-based community health workers to PhDs in natural resource development and agronomy, lead the implementation and coordination of the Millennium Villages Project. They provide great expertise and local knowledge to direct the project's services and technologies to local needs and conditions.

We are now at an exciting new point of the project. We are witnessing now a broad scaling up and expansion of the MVP throughout the continent. Last week, the Islamic Development Bank and the MVP announced financing of more than $100 million for eight African nations that are scaling up the Millennium Villages approach, with technical support from the MVP teams.

In addition to the 10 countries that have long been at the core of the MVP, 13 countries are now launching or scaling up their own MVP-linked programs, in which MVP teams will help with local design and implementation. These countries are Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Guinea, Liberia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Niger, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, and Zambia.

Countries around Africa are identifying the solutions, mobilizing the drive, and displaying the ambition to fight extreme poverty, hunger, and avoidable disease. We are very proud that the Millennium Villages strategy of integrated rural development is found to be useful and highly relevant by more and more countries. We are proud to have the chance to witness and indeed contribute to new progress around the continent. The World Bank recently voted to end extreme poverty by 2030. The evidence we are seeing in the Millennium Villages and beyond convinces us that the goal of ending extreme poverty is realistic and within reach.