The Most Important Investment in Our Future Might Not Be What You Think

There aren’t too many events that can bring everyone from Malala to Beyoncé to the Muppets together to talk about global development. But that’s exactly what happened last week in New York City when people from around the world met at UN headquarters to discuss the global goals that will drive the world’s ambitions and actions for the next fifteen years.

After an incredible week, I left New York with two takeaways: First, when the world works together to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty, incredible progress is possible. Second, if we want to build on this progress, we need to put women and children at the center of the global agenda. The end of poverty begins with them.

We know progress is possible because we’ve seen it already — especially for women and children. Since 1990, the number of women dying in pregnancy and childbirth has gone down by 46 percent. The number of children dying before their fifth birthday has been cut by more than half.

What’s more, women and children are not only surviving; they are thriving. Young children are sick less often. Adolescents are in school more often. Women’s economic prospects are improving, thanks in part to investments in things like agriculture, financial services, and sanitation.

And not only are women and children benefitting from progress, they’re helping drive it. Their contributions are one of the key reasons that extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990.

When you stop to think about all of the people behind these statistics — people who are living healthier, longer, and more fulfilled lives — the scope of these accomplishments is even more impressive.

But the reason the world came together in New York last week is to declare that we aren’t done yet. We pledged that over the next fifteen years, we’ll drive progress even further, even faster. And one of the ways we will do that is by continuing to invest in women and children.

Here’s why.

Every cent invested in women and children delivers benefits across society. For example, when the world invests in vaccines, kids are healthier — and their parents don’t have to stay home from work to take care of them.

When we invest in nutrition, children are able to develop to their full promise both physically and mentally, enabling them to learn better in school and contribute more to the workforce as adults.

When we invest in improving a woman’s access to the healthcare she needs to live a healthy life and the contraceptives she needs to plan and space her pregnancies, she can more fully participate in the economy and has a better chance of lifting her family out of poverty.

In other words, when we invest in women and children, we are investing in a healthier, more prosperous future for everyone. If the world lives up to the promises articulated in these global goals — especially its promises to women and children — I’m optimistic that over the next fifteen years, we will see the end of extreme poverty once and for all.

It’s an exciting moment in human history. For the first time ever, we don’t have to accept that extreme poverty will always be a part of everyday life. We know from the progress we’ve seen already that the world can close the gap between what’s possible and what’s purely aspirational. That means we can finally do more than ask, “What if?”

Instead, we can ask, “Where do we start?”