This piece is part of our 2018 United Nations General Assembly series.
Across our history, The Rockefeller Foundation has boldly pushed itself to look out 20, 30, 40, 50 years into the future to consider what transformational activities will ensure the broadest swath of humanity benefits from progress and innovation. During the Great Depression, we brought together America’s leading economists to grapple with poverty in the United States, which led to the creation of Social Security and financial stability for generations of Americans. As hunger and famine gripped nations cut off from progress, we invested in international agricultural research, creating breakthroughs that ushered in a Green Revolution and fed more than a billion people. Today, we are redefining how to solve energy poverty by focusing not just on access to electricity for the billion-plus people who don’t have it around the world—but on access to productive power that drives development and enables families to lift themselves out of poverty. As a result, in India today, there are more than 65,000 people directly consuming reliable, productive electricity in homes or businesses in three Indian states, and we are confident that our Smart Power model of addressing both power generation as well as distribution, supply as well as demand, will bring productive power to millions around the world.
That is why, as we approach the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly meetings in New York later in the month–where the international community will take stock of our progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I am inspired and optimistic about ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, once and for all.
Every day, through the work of our partners and grantees, I’m strengthened by inspiring stories of impact and results. Just last week I was in Rwanda attending the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF). Rwanda itself is an economic success story against a backdrop of ongoing concerns and challenges in governance, civil society and human rights. The country’s growth has averaged 7.8 percent since 2000, bringing a host of new infrastructure projects, public services, and access to employment and education. Inflation has been reduced to single digits. In 2015, the share of Rwanda’s population living below the poverty line fell to 39 percent, down from 57 percent in 2006. Over the past 25 years, infant mortality in Rwanda has fallen dramatically, from 85 of 1,000 live births prior to the genocide, to 50 in 2015—showing progress but underscoring much more work remains to reach the most vulnerable Rwandans.
As I looked at the audience of about 2,000 people who gathered there to discuss ending hunger and transforming agriculture in Africa, I remembered the first such meeting organized about a decade ago by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA. That event had a few dozen people, mainly plant scientists. And since that first meeting, which sparked a movement in Sub-Saharan Africa to focus on agricultural development and investment, there have been tremendous gains in many African nations. According to this year’s African Union scorecard, 10 nations are meeting the commitment to allocate 10 percent of their national budgets towards agricultural development. Fifteen more have made real progress towards that goal. Meanwhile, 19 countries have met or exceeded the target of achieving 6 percent annual GDP growth in agriculture, with another 21 making real progress towards that goal.
These gains have delivered real, human results. Households with a percentage of underweight children under five decreased from 26 percent in the early 1990s to 18 percent in 2016. And stunting—the result of that hidden hunger—in children under five has also decreased, from 45 percent to 33 percent.
AGRA, an African-led institution founded with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has led this revolution, helping to more than double average crop yields for millions of smallholder farmers. It was born out of an African movement to reinvest in the sector that shapes the lives and the realities for the vast majority of Africa’s people. Over the years this movement has lifted up millions of African families, delivering inspiring stories of progress like these:
On farms in Western Kenya, our team has witnessed the pride of a mother who adopted hybrid maize and described how her children could now eat and go to school.
In Northern Uganda, I remember families taste-testing different forms of orange flesh sweet potato and knowing that when the young children said they loved it, that was an important step to reducing their chronic vitamin A deficiency.
For Nigerian farmers, every day we see how making financial services available is helping so many manage their farms as a business, focusing on growth and profitability.
And in Ethiopia, I’ve watched an evolution over the past 20 years, as public investment in safety net programs and insurance for farmers has prevented or mitigated dire weather events from causing famines for millions of people.
These inspiring stories are why we work toward solving the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s for the young mother in a village who lacks access to basic health services. For the boy whose chronic malnutrition keeps him from growing to reach his full height, and his full potential. For the girl in rural India who still must walk for hours in the dark just to get clean drinking water or find a working power outlet. And for the family here in America that hungers for the economic security, opportunity, and dignity that comes with a good job. Each one of these snapshots inspire and motivate us at The Rockefeller Foundation to work in collaboration with some of the most talented and passionate people to deliver profound and lasting impact for millions of people around the world. They are who we seek to serve–and they always will be.