A Grand Challenge

March 9, 2011 By Melissa Silverman

This morning Secretary Clinton, Melinda Gates, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah launched “Grand Challenges for Global Development,” a five year $50 million partnership with the Government of Norway, World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Grand Challenges Canada.  This unique public/private partnership will use science, technology, and innovation in designing programs to combat the most significant development problems of our time.  The first challenge, Saving Lives at Birth, will focus on the reduction of maternal and newborn mortality.   Shah reminded the audience that maternal and child health is “A critical part of our national security,” as healthy families contribute to the stability of nations.  And at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Senate is expected to take test votes on the House-passed continuing resolution (H.R. 1) and the Senate Democratic alternative unveiled Friday.  Neither plan is expected to gain the 60 votes needed to move forward.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

International Women’s Day: Looking Ahead 100 Years (Melinda Gates, The Huffington Post)

Today, as we honor those pioneers and celebrate a century of accomplishment, we should also look forward. In particular, we should ask ourselves: How can we build upon those accomplishments? What do we want our legacy to be one hundred years from now? For me, the measure of our success will be determined by one thing in particular: the health of women and children.

Smart Power

International Women’s day: A time for celebration mixed with realism (Caroline Harper, the Guardian)

But we have to be realistic about the patchy progress in embedding gender concerns into development initiatives, and in promoting women’s and girls’ economic, political and social empowerment. While there has been impressive progress on girls’ access to education, maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high in much of sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia – representing the greatest global health disparity between industrialised and developing countries.

The politics of Afghan women’s rights (Naheed Mustafa, Foreign Policy AfPak Channel)

On Jan. 10, Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers, at its regular weekly meeting, decided that women’s shelters needed to be brought under government control, reflecting a long-simmering discontent with women’s shelters in Afghanistan. It’s a discontent fanned by a media campaign spearheaded by right-wing broadcaster and ideologue, Nasto Naderi, who has pushed the idea that shelters are simply fronts for prostitution. But in truth, women’s rights were never a priority — neither for the Karzai government nor, in any serious way, for the international community. Such rights are seen in Afghanistan as a zero-sum game: More rights for me means fewer rights for you. Add to that the fact that merely discussing women’s rights makes many Afghan men uncomfortable. There’s an insistent scaremongering of conservatives — social, political, religious — and of those clutching to power in a quickly devolving landscape.

Why Foreign Aid Matters to Women (Ruth Messinger, The Huffington Post)

Each year on International Women’s Day, I take time to reflect on the many inspiring and courageous women I’ve had the privilege to meet in my travels as president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development and human rights organization that supports grassroots projects in 36 countries in the Global South. The communities I visit are often ravaged by hunger, violence and disease, all of which are byproducts of gut-wrenching poverty.

For Want of a Nail: Foreign Aid Cuts Will Harm U.S. Influence (Michael Lieberman, Huffington Post)

These words resonate today in the divide over the U.S. foreign aid budget. We know well that as the era borne by the war gives way to a more multipolar and interconnected world, military dominance is but one aspect of American preeminence. In this new century, our influence and strength depend far more on convincing and enabling the peoples of the world to look to us as a partner for prosperity and security. This is done less by weapons than by outstretched arms — investments in the “small things” like governance, infrastructure, health and education. These in turn create the conditions necessary for security cooperation and economic opportunities, making our own nation safer and wealthier as well.

Canada teams with Gates Foundation to fight newborn deaths (James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail)

Canada will join an international group of foreign-aid heavyweights Wednesday to launch a new initiative aimed at stemming the alarming number of deaths of newborns and their mothers in the developing world. “Saving Lives at Birth” – the new program – will spend $14-million this year and $50-million over five years to find solutions for a disturbing trend: 150,000 mothers and 1.6 million infants die worldwide each year in the 72-hour window after a child is born. Another 1.2 million children are stillborn.

Politics/Foreign Policy

Americans Oppose Government Shutdown, Fault Cuts in Poll (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Heidi Przybyla – Bloomberg)

Almost 8 in 10 people say Republicans and Democrats should reach a compromise on a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit to keep the government running, a Bloomberg National Poll shows. At the same time, lopsided margins oppose cuts to Medicare, education, environmental protection, medical research and community-renewal programs. More than seven in 10 respondents say slashing foreign aid and pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan would result in substantial savings, and large majorities back such moves. Yet foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of federal spending, and the Pentagon requested $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, less than 5 percent of Obama’s $3.83 trillion federal budget.

Don’t cut aid to DRCongo, actor tells US lawmakers (Agence France Presse)

US actor turned Africa advocate Ben Affleck warned US lawmakers Tuesday that cutting foreign aid to the Democratic Republic of Congo could push the vast central African country back into war.

Meeting the world’s health challenges, boosting our economy (Alex Dehgan and Kaitlin Christenson, The Hill)

Our science and technology community is on the brink of discoveries that will improve the health of all people in the world, creating the conditions where foreign assistance is no longer needed, and bolstering America’s leadership in the scientific research that helps industry create jobs for the future. If the achievements of this past year are any indication of future progress, we will be well-positioned to better protect ourselves and the world from today’s public health threats, lead on tomorrow’s technologies, and grow the jobs that accompany them.