When world leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals as a blueprint for fighting global poverty, it wasn’t readily apparent that the goals could be met.

After all, the task for each of the eight MDGs was daunting: reduce extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, curtail child and maternal mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, protect the environment, and create a global partnership for development.


  • Goal 1: Eradicate hunger and extreme poverty
  • Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education
  • Goal 3: Promote gender equality
  • Goal 4: Reduce child mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve maternal health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS and malaria
  • Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Goal 8: Form global partnerships for development

A global goal

When the MDGs were agreed to, one question naturally came to mind: Could leaders muster enough resources and political will to pursue such ambitious commitments?

More than 12 years later, we have made great strides toward reaching these goals. In fact, some of the objectives, such as halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, have already been met.

But with just over 1,000 days remaining before the MDGs expire, there is much more work to be done. It may still be possible to achieve our aims, but doing so will require recommitting ourselves to do so by devoting the necessary resources for the job. We must also take to heart a lesson confirmed by interim progress reports - that we cannot combat poverty and its harmful effects without focusing our efforts on girls and women.

Women of the world

Worldwide, six of the ten countries that have made the most progress toward meeting the MDGs are in Central and South America. There are multiple factors that account for their success, but one that our work points out is greater inclusion of girls and women. Latin America is doing remarkably well at ensuring that girls, women and entire communities benefit from the region’s overall development.

Take Carolina Inlago; while she certainly doesn’t go to work every day thinking about the MDGs, her experience offers a salient lesson on how we can meet them. As a midwife, Carolina has been delivering babies in Ecuador’s remote highlands for two decades. But it was only recently that she started delivering them in actual hospitals.

A nuanced approach

To reduce the region’s high maternal mortality rate and to help meet the MDGs’ target of a 75 percent drop in maternal deaths, Ecuador’s Ministry of Health teamed up with CARE. This partnership sought to understand maternal health from Carolina’s patients’ perspective, since these indigenous women are often suspicious of modern medical practices, which they see as foreign and potentially harmful.

After listening to the women, the program trained Carolina to meld contemporary medical practices with local customs in a way that the women could trust. The result? Women who previously gave birth in their homes began coming to birthing centers, which helped spur a 35 percent drop in the area’s maternal mortality rate.

Women like Carolina are a key reason why Latin American countries like Ecuador have made more progress toward meeting the MDGs than any other region. And while her culture is unique to the highlands of Ecuador, the lesson and the hope in Carolina’s story are universal.

Investing in a girl or a woman – with our time, our energy, and our resources – will make the difference between just setting Millennium Development Goals, and actually achieving them.