For more than four decades, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting at Davos has brought together leaders from industry, government, academia, civil society and the media to discuss pressing social and economic issues. This year's focus is on the widening gap between rich and poor.
If you work in or around the development world, the conversation at Davos may be familiar territory. Since 2000, we have been guided by the indispensable Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These are eight visionary goals endorsed by 189 UN member states that provide a framework for reducing poverty, increasing access to education, ensuring gender equality and improving the health of women and children and ending the scourges of infectious disease.
The MDGs have remained a consistent and important thread of the Davos story, though not always a headline-making one. In focusing all sectors on the ambitious goals to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty, the MDGs have mitigated so many of the social and economic concerns of the WEF audience.
Goals as ambitious as the MDGs stay relevant only when inspiring leaders champion them. You might be surprised to learn that one of the most important MDG champions has been Norway.
Norway's new prime minister, Erna Solberg, hosted this year's MDG event at Davos, along with the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. Solberg has just been named co-chair, with Kagame, of the esteemed group known as the MDG Advocates. She brings a fresh perspective on the MDGs, focusing this year's event on accelerating progress through the empowerment of girls, who must have improved access to health and education if we want to meet the MDGs and create more just and healthy communities.
When we think about donor countries to global aid we typically think of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or France. But with $4.75 billion going to foreign aid last year, Norway is not only in a top-ten donor country in absolute dollars, but it's in the top three as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI). Solberg's commitment to health and education for girls builds upon a strong legacy of Norwegian support of women and children's health.
Norway remains one of only five countries in the world to exceed the UN target of 0.7 percent of GNI going to development assistance, and it has done so consistently for more than 30 years. In 2010, despite the financial crisis, Norway pledged $500 million for women and children's health through 2020. They have consistently increased their contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, committing $750 million with Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland for 2014-2016. Norway also committed to doubling its annual contribution to the GAVI Alliance (which increases access to life-saving immunizations), with total direct aid from 2000 to 2015 exceeding $1 billion. And last year's $200 million contribution to a larger family planning effort will help 120 million people in the poorest countries access reproductive health services.
Norway's financial commitment to women and children's health is exemplary, as is their political leadership. Solberg's predecessor, Jens Stoltenberg, kept development assistance high on their national agenda when others did not, and most recently chaired the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children. Solberg has gracefully taken the torch and fueled the flame, as we see with the focus of the MDG Advocates yesterday on adolescent girls and a specific commitment from Norway to invest in girl's education. Norway continues to promote tangible solutions to problems they could easily look away from.
At yesterday's event my office was honored to present a plan -- developed in partnership with Norway and others -- to save the lives of additional one million children needed to achieve the child health goal (MDG 4) by December 31, 2015. Our plan is a bold expression of confidence that the health MDGs can be met. On the occasion of Davos, I am hopeful for our success, in great part because Norway is helping to lead the way.
To learn more about the health Millennium Development Goals and the work of the Special Envoy's Office, click here.