Africa's Toughest Challenge Is About to Enter Overtime

This month, the world's attention will be firmly fixed on Africa. South Africa, the region's strongest economy, is hosting FIFA's Football World Cup Finals -- the first an African country has ever had the honor to host. The monthlong festival of sport will showcase to billions of viewers just how much the continent has achieved in terms of economic, social and political development in the twenty first century. I will be one of those billions glued to the television set.

Long after the superstars, celebrities and accompanying press have packed up and left South Africa, the Cup Finals' legacy will be judged not just in terms of physical infrastructure and economic growth, but also on its impact on the region's psyche in terms of renewed optimism, confidence and pride.

This is important, because Africa needs success stories. Not wanting to rain on the parade, but in another major event that will take place this year, the tenth anniversary of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, the continent's progress out of poverty and ill-health will show decidedly less progress than you are likely to see in any World Cup promotional footage.

Let's extend the football analogy by looking at the success to date that the rich world has enjoyed in meeting these eight separate Millennium Development Goals. Of the eighteen separate indicators, the UN gave the rich world 15 draws and three defeats. That is, 15 incidences of insufficient progress and of zero progress and, in fact, deterioration. That's a poor record by anyone's standards, and when you consider that the last three indicators were maternal mortality, the spread of tuberculosis, and halting deforestation, it's downright unacceptable. We deserve red cards, let alone cautions.

I encourage you to check out the score board here.

Huge sums of money have been spent getting South Africa ready for the World Cup, and as an optimist, I genuinely believe this investment will deliver real, lasting returns that will be felt far beyond South Africa's borders. If only the rich world saw the investment potential in providing effective solutions to bring the most disadvantaged out of extreme poverty and hunger.

The World Bank has calculated that it would cost $10 billion per year to deliver an evidence-based, cost-effective intervention program to prevent and treat malnutrition -- a problem that has vast health and socio-economic implications among children from zero to 24 months.

This figure might seem like a lot, but it is not if you consider that the per capita cost of providing life-saving food fortification programs is between ten cents and one dollar per year.

When world leaders and international aid agencies meet in New York in September to discuss the prospects for attaining MDGs over the next five years, they need to turn up their game and start playing as a team -- playing to win.

This means breaking down the silos between individual aid organizations, philanthropists and governments and opening up the opportunity for the private sector to contribute its expertise and innovation to solve our most pressing societal, economic and environmental challenges.

With five years to go, we are entering overtime. Please don't let us go to penalties: There's still time to attain one of the biggest prizes of all.