12/06/2011 10:11 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2012

Welcome to the World

No milestone from this past year sticks out more than the news of the world's population crossing the seven billion mark. Demographers estimate we will hit eight billion sometime in the next twelve years. No one can say exactly when or where we will cross that threshold but one thing is guaranteed: each of those next billion will be children.

While there are many things to consider about our readiness for population growth and sustainability, I also keep this question in view: What are the odds that each of those children can reach the potential they came into the world with?

Nearly half the world exists on $2 a day or less -- and half of the world's children live in poverty. In the least developed countries, about 30% of children under the age of 14 work. As a result, these children become extremely vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. Nearly 1 million children are trafficked and enslaved each year.

It's difficult to see all the places where children are at risk. They reside in places where there is trauma and conflict, when regions are wiped out by flood or earthquakes, and when people move across borders to escape from conflict or chaos. They cannot understand or change the upheaval around them without protection, intervention and care. Worse, research suggests that without proper intervention and support, these cycles will be repeated by the very same children when they grow up.

So what of the next billion? Will they learn or labor? Will they be free or enslaved? Will they know trauma or recovery? Will they be shown pathways to thrive or will they be stuck, as economist Paul Collier describes as the "bottom billion"?

While statistics may give us reason to pause or even worry, the view from here also gives us hope that our better nature can prevail. I am privileged to work with a network of innovative grantee partners spanning 78 countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, who make personal sacrifices every day to create opportunities for the next billion. They lead organizations such as:

Centre for Domestic Training and Development in Nairobi, Kenya, which assists women and children working as domestic laborers by helping them negotiate fair labor conditions and teaches them how to protect themselves from abuse while encouraging them to pursue formal career alternatives.

Oruj Learning Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, founded by four young Afghan refugee women in 2002, invests in girls and women's education in Afghanistan and recently created the nation's first female community college.

Li, Li, Li! in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a reading out-loud program children displaced by the 2010 earthquake that helps them cope with post-traumatic stress and provides medical services to prevent and treat Cholera.

These homegrown leaders act on ideas born out of necessity and fueled by creativity that comes from having few resources to work with. They are building the fabric of a local civil society, shaping solutions on the ground where they live. Their impact is an engine for international development and local sustainable growth.

Earlier this summer, I spoke with someone about our investments in projects that deliver education, health and apprenticeships to street children in India. They asked essentially whether there might always be street children, isn't that an inevitable part of the social structure? Yes, there will always be some measure of poverty, but that does not mean we should deem the situation acceptable.

If you believe all lives are of equal value, writing off a generation is simply unconscionable. Their future and ours have never before been so globally and inextricably tangled. Economic and political stability, global workforce and markets, the wellbeing of civil society -- we'll rise or fall together.

If you are PepsiCo, IBM or Vodaphone, your next generation of global employees is somewhere in this billion or the next. Global economic growth will be shaped by our collective stability, so it matters whether anyone has helped the next generation in Nigeria, Haiti, Bolivia or Egypt to survive disaster, upheaval and conflict and to grow up with an orientation towards peace and progress.

At the end of the year, we are all in wrap up mode: as a company, or an individual, you might reflect on what you did, or failed to do. You gear up for the year ahead. And you spend time with your family, your faith, your philanthropy and whatever is most important to you.

My wish is that this demographic moment gives us a way to focus.

We must do better for the next billion. What happens to them has meaning for all of us. And because they are children, it is up to us to fulfill that promise.

Kristin Lindsey is the CEO of The Global Fund for Children in Washington, DC. For over twenty years she has worked with foundations, nonprofits and policymakers in Chicago, DC and various spots around the globe. The Global Fund for Children invests in innovative, community-based organizations working with some of the world's most vulnerable children and youth. To date, GFC has invested $23 million in over 500 grassroots organizations in 78 countries, serving over 1 million children.