Davos, the MDGs -- and What's Missing

I just returned from the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. More than 2,500 business, civil society, religious, governmental and youth leaders, from "tech pioneers" to "young global leaders" to business tycoons. Bill Gates and Bono dropped by, too many prime ministers to count -- even the Tiger Mom was there. It's an impressive grouping and the ideas flow freely.

The focus this year at Davos was "Shared Norms for the New Reality". In conversations about development issues, we wrestled with gender issues, financial gaps, new strategies for healthcare delivery, and how to connect social entrepreneurs to the larger social and economic reality, among many other topics.

One topic that was not on the agenda enough, from my perspective, is the crushing challenge of demographics in many developing countries. India's reps spoke positively of their "demographic dividend", but we know that such a dividend can turn into a disaster absent the right policies to get young people educated and into jobs and to keep fertility rates at sustainable levels. In some other parts of the world, there is only demographic disaster, as population growth is unable to be matched by growing per capita incomes and jobs. We know there are at least 200 million women in the developing world, for example, who want and need access to modern family planning methods, but who don't have that access. As a result, family sizes are large, infant and maternal mortality is high, and the social strain is great on countries and societies that are wrestling with the toughest of development challenges.

Last year at Davos, the Young Global Leaders launched the MDG Pledge Initiative, and PSI's own Kate Roberts stepped up with an ambitious pledge to improve the lives of millions through our work in disease prevention and reproductive health. This initiative prompts broader scale action for the MDGs through a unique open-source registry website. Functioning similar to the user review website Yelp, the site serves to encourage all people and groups to make their own pledges and share them through social networking tools.

But this and other very laudable pledges will fall short, despite the best intentions, if we cannot help women and families get the access to family planning they want and need to help them control their family's growth and their own reproductive health.

Some at Davos are working to mainstream these conversations, and we will continue to support them. No serious global forum on the MDGs, and development and economic issues in general can afford to be quiet on the population issue, when it is the gateway through which passes so much social progress. The global MDG countdown to 2015 is coming. The World Economic Forum at Davos is a small crossroads of the world that reminds us how much international cooperation is possible -- and is still needed -- to tackle issues of this magnitude.

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