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We Must Close Gaps in Inequality and Poverty

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We have much to celebrate about the progress we've made so far on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Extreme poverty in developing countries is down from 43 percent to 21 percent.

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Gender gaps in literacy have closed through MDG-related efforts. Manu Rasaili helps her daughter Mira Sunwar with her school work in Tleyanpur Village, Nepal. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

And while we know a lot more about what it takes to end extreme poverty: grow economies and reduce inequalities... "Prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity, peace" is not yet a reality in much of the world.

The conversation lately has centered on what the MDGs will be beyond 2015. Could we reduce extreme poverty from 21 percent to 3 percent by 2030?

We must. Every five seconds of every day, a child dies of hunger related causes. Ending extreme poverty on a global scale is challenging and expensive, but we have an obligation to do it.

What about going beyond ending extreme poverty?

$1.26 a day is still hardly anything to live off of. It may not be extreme poverty, but it's certainly not prosperity.

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Bhumi Kumari Kathait (49) and her husband Bal Bhadhur Kathait (49) in front of their home in the F Village, Nepal. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

So what do prosperity and equity really look like?

I see prosperity and equity each time I visit our work in the field. Many of the communities I visit are just getting started with Heifer International, and they have a long road ahead of them.

I also get to see communities that are reaping the benefits of our work. And I see prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity and peace in each of them.

We have figured out how to close the gap between poverty and prosperity, and we are doing it on a bigger scale than ever before in Heifer International's history.

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Gita Chaudhari (32- left) and her husband Parsu Ram Chaudhari (40) pose in their garden in Athaisghar Village, Nepal. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

By connecting communities of farmers together under a common product - chickens, goats, milk, sweet potatoes, etc. - we help them become collectively competitive and find access to markets where the farmers can profit.

Through our training and technical support, farmers are improving their produce, yield and consistency. The farmers benefit because they get a stable, fair price for their produce. The market benefits from reliable, quality produce. This is how an economy grows and income inequality shrinks.

These changes will only last, however, if we have done our community development work right. This is where our 12 Cornerstones for Just and Community Development come in: accountability, sharing and caring, improving the environment, gender equity and the like. We have used these principles for more than 65 years to guide communities to self-reliance. Participants return to the Cornerstones long after the project work has ended.

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Bess Mutelo (38), in the meeting house of Niyoba Women's Club in Zambia, under the Cornerstone "Gender and Family Focus." Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

We must strengthen communities from the inside out so they do not slip back into the poverty out of which they lifted themselves. That is how we will go beyond ending extreme hunger and poverty.

To reach the target - ending extreme poverty by 2030 - Heifer International is moving from a projects-based approach to a programs-based approach. We have historically focused on our work in individual countries; we will now focus on regions so our resources and attention can have the greatest effects - like our new program in India that will reach 6,000 families with women's empowerment and dairy cows.

Success is not optional. Children, families, communities around the world are depending on us.

This post originally appeared on the Heifer International Blog.