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Good News in Bad Times

NEW YORK – At a time when the headlines are filled with financial crises and violence, it is especially important to recognize the creativity of many governments in fighting poverty, disease, and hunger. The point is not merely to make ourselves feel a little better, but rather to confront one of the world’s gravest threats: the widespread pessimism that today’s problems are too big to be solved. Studying the successes gives us the knowledge and confidence to step up our shared efforts to solve today’s great global challenges. 

Hats off, first, to Mexico for pioneering the idea of “conditional cash transfers” to poor households. These transfers enable and encourage those households to invest in their children’s health, nutrition, and schooling. Mexico’s “Opportunities Program,” led by President Felipe Calderón is now being widely emulated around Latin America. Recently, at the behest of the singers Shakira and Alejandro Sanz, and a social movement that they lead, all of Latin America’s leaders committed to step up the region’s programs for early childhood development, based on the successes that have been proven to date.

Norway, under the leadership of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, is maintaining its tradition of creative social and environmental leadership. The government has put together a global alliance to prevent maternal death in childbirth, investing in both safe delivery and survival of newborns. At the same time, Norway launched an innovative $1 billion program with Brazil to induce poor communities in the Amazon to end rampant deforestation. Cleverly, Norway pays out the funds to Brazil only upon proven success in avoiding deforestation (compared with an agreed baseline).

Spain, under the leadership of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has given a major stimulus to helping the poorest countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Spain created a new MDG Fund at the United Nations to promote the cooperation needed within the UN to address the various challenges of the MDGs.