We were thrilled to welcome Bill Gates recently to the Earth Institute for a wide-ranging informational meeting led by director Jeff Sachs. The half-day visit was a lively, frank and open exchange of ideas between Mr. Gates and Earth Institute faculty members debating the challenges and immense opportunities for human development in the areas of energy and water sustainability, global health, and global agriculture and food systems. Mr. Gates also met with the Earth Institute leadership team, discussing the critical importance of education and applied research around sustainable development as is pioneered across the Institute, as well as the basic science of the planet as championed by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in particular.
The meeting also included a discussion of accomplishments from Year 3 of the Earth Institute’s 5-year, $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the science and policy needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Sub-Saharan Africa. This Gates Foundation grant is the largest private grant the Earth Institute has ever received, and provides crucial support to the Earth Institute researchers in New York and Africa who constitute the brain trust behind our integrated work on policy and advocacy, health, energy and infrastructure, and agriculture and ecology activities in Africa. Highlights of exciting developments in the third year of the grant include:
• Advocacy and policy efforts of Earth Institute senior staff in New York and at the MDG Centers in Africa helped secure high-level international commitment for an African Green Revolution to increase food security and improve livelihoods.
• The Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) promoted sustainable economic and social development in African cities by hosting the Millennium Cities Investment Day and drafting a handbook for promoting foreign investment. MCI also completed needs assessments of public health, gender, education, and water and sanitation services in seven Millennium Cities.
• The Health team completed and field tested a training manual for Community Health Workers, a cadre of community-based health agents who address critical health problems common in rural communities, and continued its work with national governments and other stakeholders to integrate Earth Institute-developed health protocols and models into national policy discussions.
• An innovative monitoring system using Rapid SMS technologies was developed to rapidly improve health information gathering, patient management, and delivery of community services.
• The Agriculture team developed technical tools to build a comprehensive understanding of the variables affecting food production in Sub-Saharan Africa, including soil fertility, water availability, vegetation, land use, climate, nutrition and infrastructure
Providing unparalleled educational opportunities for students and engaging them in real-world problem solving is an integral part of the Earth Institute’s mission. In grant Year 3, the Gates MDG Special Initiatives grant directly supported the involvement of student researchers across different areas of the Earth Institute’s work, including community health, mobile health, infrastructure, and monitoring and evaluation.
Ten summer interns worked in Millennium Villages sites across Africa, representing a cross-section of Columbia University’s programs and disciplines, including medicine, public policy, international affairs, public health, business, engineering, and sustainable development.
Year 4 activities under the Gates grant are now underway, with the team making strides to produce a toolkit for district-level scale-up for the MDGs in Africa, an evaluation model for neglected tropical diseases, and an assessment of biodiversity changes in three Millennium Village clusters. With only five years left before the MDG achievement target year of 2015, this year is a critical one for global efforts to show serious progress towards realizing these goals. Thanks to the generosity of the Gates Foundation, the Earth Institute is contributing tools and policy lessons to help prove that they are within reach.