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Sharon K. D’Agostino Headshot

Transforming Partnerships To Save Lives

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What would we do differently tomorrow if we knew that the lives of 16 million women and children were at stake? Because they are.

At the beginning of the new millennium, the governments of all the world's countries committed to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to address the issues facing the poorest people on the planet. Ten years later, when the global community took stock of progress against these goals, it was clear that some targets would not be met. The goals for reducing child mortality (MDG4) and improving maternal health (MDG5) in particular were off track, costing millions of lives every year. So in the spring of 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a call-to-action urging those committed to maternal and child survival to develop new models of engagement, form new partnerships, and enlist others in Every Woman, Every Child, the renewed effort to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.

The response has been impressive. In the three years since the launch of Every Woman, Every Child, 260 entities have committed nearly $60 billion to programs intended to save and improve the lives of the world's most vulnerable women and children. Those who made these commitments include governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), United Nations agencies, academic institutions, foundations, health care associations and private-sector companies. Johnson & Johnson is proud to have been among the first companies to respond to this call-to-action and has partnered with extraordinary organizations in service of this vital goal. The progress resulting from these collaborations has contributed to a significant rise in the numbers of women and children who are surviving and thriving.

Fewer than 850 days remain until the Millennium Development Goal target date, and while the UN General Assembly meets in New York later this month, many members of the world community will gather to discuss and assess our collective progress in the Every Woman, Every Child campaign. We will celebrate areas where tremendous progress has been made, such as the fight to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the decrease in vaccine-related preventable deaths in children under 5. We will also highlight areas where we must redouble our efforts, most notably newborn and maternal deaths in the first 24 hours after childbirth. These conversations will focus on the "what" of Every Woman, Every Child.

But the nagging questions of "how" remain: How can we reach those women and children we are not yet able to reach? How can we truly leverage the strengths of all those who share this common goal? How can we fully realize the potential of the diverse partners involved?

In many discussions about multi-sector partnerships we hear the African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." With only 850 days remaining, in light of what must be accomplished, we must go fast, we must go far, and we must go together. We must strive to create unexpected alliances, especially more private-private partnerships that gather diverse strengths, insights, and experiences to achieve broader reach and deeper impact. We need to find quick ways to assess if our work is having the intended impact and if we are reaching the targets we set. We must rapidly focus attention on efforts that are stalling and determine why. Partnerships need real-time data in order to make informed decisions on prioritizing efforts and resources, making innovations in metrics and evaluation critical.

There is no doubt that partnerships - cross-sector and multi-dimensional - are the way forward. Together we will make better decisions and implement more innovative solutions than if we worked alone.

As we gather physically in New York and virtually around the world, we must think and plan differently about our collective effort to reach the 16 million women and children who need us. I invite you to join the conversation about how we go fast and go far, together.

In the lead up to the UN General Assembly, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship partnered with Johnson & Johnson, the United Nations Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce an online debate focused on the last 900 days before the MDGs expire in 2015. Click here to view the entire debate. This article originally appeared on trust.org.