05/18/2010 09:06 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Breakthrough Village Results for Integrated Rural Needs

This week the New York Times profiled the early results of the Millennium Villages in Sauri, Kenya. The article by Jeffrey Gettleman highlights the community's remarkable progress in food security, education, health, and income-generation. Crucially, these integrated gains towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have been achieved through a very modest budget, with only $60 per person of total annual project expenditures and the same amount of community, government and partner expenditures.

But one of the most important lessons of the Millennium Villages project is that the gains are taking place far beyond the first program site in Sauri. Today, the Millennium Villages reach nearly 500,000 people across 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the partner communities in each country are registering a cross-section of major improvements. Later this spring the Millennium Villages project will present a report with 3-year benchmark data for several sites. This will complement data from comparison villages that are slated to be reported later this year, along with some key scientific publications.

These results form a critical reference point in the global policy discussions of 2010. In September the UN will host the last major 5-year checkpoint summit on the Millennium Development Goals. President Obama has announced his intent for an "action plan" to be agreed at this summit. Before then the G8 and G20 will meet in Canada in June, as the world's new leading forum among economic powers. Hundreds of corporate leaders from around the world will come together at the UN Global Compact's summit the same month.

In each of these venues, the focus must be practical: how to leverage simple technologies to scale up the success stories that already exist? Less than a decade ago the world shifted its focus from whether to scale up support for poor people's AIDS treatment to how to scale it up. In the past couple of years a similar shift of logic took hold for supporting smallholder agriculture, and even for malaria control.

Today an analogous breakthrough is needed for scaling up not just single interventions or sector programs, but integrated interventions that span sector programs. Every community needs adequate food alongside functioning schools, clinics, community health workers, water points, roads, and bank accounts. Why pretend to choose one as more important than another? Each village in extreme poverty has the right to set its own holistic action plan for achieving the MDGs.

Many specific Millennium Village activities have already seen tremendous scale-up success since the project started four years ago. As one of the most important examples, Malawi has doubled its national food production through basic support to farmers. Now the goal is to support countries to scale-up an integrated approach. The Government of Mali has drawn from the early program success to craft a national plan targeting 2 million people in the country's 166 most food insecure communes. The Government of Nigeria has committed to using its debt-relief funds to scale integrated community-based approaches to 20 million people.

The Millennium Villages are empowering communities, increasing demand for well-functioning public services, and providing a powerful example of how an integrated approach to community-based development can succeed. It is time to gather our practical minds to say: if a small group can work with half a million people to achieve those successes in just a few years, what can each of us do to support the other hundreds of millions of people who deserve the same chance at success?