The Millennium Villages project offers a bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty. The Millennium Villages are proving that by fighting poverty at the village level through community-led development, rural Africa can achieve the Millennium Development Goals—global targets for reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half and improving education, health, gender equality and environmental sustainability—by 2015, and escape the extreme poverty that traps hundreds of millions of people throughout the continent.
With the help of new advances in science and technology, project personnel work with villages to create and facilitate sustainable, community-led action plans that are tailored to the villages’ specific needs and designed to achieve the the Millennium Development Goals.
Positive thinking can be a bad thing if it blinds you to criticism and ongoing problems. Pessimism, though, can be just as bad if it prevents you from seeing potential and the possibility of change. So when someone, person or organization, makes large claims it’s important to try to find some balance between skepticism and wishful thinking.
That’s why it can be so difficult to think though the idea that poverty could be eliminated in the same way that certain diseases have been eliminated over the last century. A century ago, of course, we did not know enough about the origins of diseases to really understand how we might prevent them. And, of course, we have only eliminated a few.
In fact, the very techniques we developed to fight diseases caused their own problems; bacterial resistance to antibiotics, for example. And new diseases have arisen, such as the AIDS pandemic, that may not be resolved, much less controlled, for decades or more. So when we say we can eliminate poverty we have to be cautious about what we mean.
Still, projects like the Millennium Villages illustrate that there is a lot of common sense yet to be applied to the problem of eliminating hunger and poverty. We save an enormous amount of energy– in every sense– if we buy food aide regionally rather than shipping it from the United States. African farmers are willing and able to grow their own crops.
Similarly, it makes sense to apply some sort of systemic thinking to poverty. That means considerations of sustainability and scale, as well as a focus on agriculture, education, health, and infrastructure. This is not your father’s Care Package, dropped by parachute when famine strikes. I think there is every reason to be hopeful about this new model.