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Davos 2011: Communities of Action to End Extreme Poverty

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This week in Davos, Switzerland, policy leaders from around the world will convene amidst a range of profound undercurrents that are redefining many tenets of global cooperation. At one side of the spectrum, longstanding economic powers are grappling with high unemployment, tight budgets, and a profound sense of economic fragility. At another side, emerging economies that teetered on the brink of ruin barely a decade ago are now the apples of investors' eyes globally. Meanwhile prices for the world's most fundamental commodity -- food -- are breaching all time records, starkly highlighting the persistent challenges entailed in meeting basic human needs. High food prices prompt alarm for the huge numbers with scarce resources to buy it, alongside quiet pride among the farmers and investors fortunate enough to benefit from selling it.

Far away from the conference centers, the pace of technological innovation continues unabated. Hundreds of millions more people are getting access to mobile phones and the Internet every year, and social networking entrepreneurs are finding new and exciting ways every day for all of those people to connect at personal, professional, and humanitarian levels. The unprecedented ability of geographically diffuse communities to link and act around common interests marks one of the great transformations of our time.

But the inevitable focus on navigating new global sources of influence and power cannot be left to overshadow the persistent challenges faced by the world's poorest and least influential people -- the ones whom the world has spent 10 years promising to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to cut extreme poverty in its many forms by half by 2015. With roughly one fifth of humanity still living on less than $1/day, the global community must take advantage of the latest tools available to fulfill its commitments.

To that end, a year ago more than 60 members of the World Economic Forum's community of Young Global Leaders made public pledges at the Forum's Annual Meeting Davos, committing their own private individual and organizational efforts to time-bound, quantified and practical initiatives that can help achieve the MDGs. This week, at the 2011 annual meeting, the MDG Pledges initiative is launching its first major progress report, which is also posted on www.mdgpledges.org.

Over the past year, many MDG pledges have made exciting progress. For example, Veronica Colondam and the YCAB Foundation have helped to educate more than 2,700 school drop outs in Indonesia. Leading economists Esther Duflo, Kristin Forbes, Michael Kremer, and Vikram Akula, through Deworm the World, have dewormed more than 3 million children. Zainab Salbi and Women for Women International have supported nearly 43,000 women survivors of war across a range of developing countries. James Kondo and Table for Two have helped to deliver approximately 6 million school meals in Africa. And at a person-to-person scale, Alec Oxenford and the Germinare Foundation have helped two students receive a full scholarship that will enable them to complete both primary and secondary school.

These pledges reflect the spirit of the Millennium Developing Goals, one in which everyone must make their best effort to contribute however they can. The pledges are not a supplement for government action. They are an invitation to other individuals and organizations to make their own pledges for the goals, and to register them publicly on www.mdgpledges.org. More than anything, they are indicative of how far and fast an interconnected global community can move forward together, when individuals and organizations decide to collaborate in tackling the world's most pressing challenges.