Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Jeffrey Sachs in Sydney

Jeffrey Sachs was in Sydney last week and spoke at The University of Sydney as part of the opening festivities of USYD's new research group - the Institute of Sustainable Solutions.
This group will conduct very important research into issues such as climate change, renewable energy, population growth, health, food and energy security, providing new ways of thinking. Its great that Sydney University is choosing to tackle the big issues!

It was a great honour to have our favourite presenter Adam Spencer as MC for the night to introduce Jefrey Sachs - the absolute inspiration for bricks + cartwheels. Sachs has a bio that is too lengthy for me to even begin to summarise here unless I want to write a short book! I can say that From 2002 to 2006, he was Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Director of the UN Millennium Project. Many a night during uni - the bricks + cartwheels girls spent late nights reading the Millennium Development Goals and dreaming about the work that we would like to do (if we ever finished uni!) So the work of Sachs became very real inspiration for about solutions. bricks + cartwheels which we started in late 2006.

So - back to last week - Sachs speech in The Great Hall was very powerful and we were hanging off every word. Sachs covered issues such as climate change, low food productivity, the heavy burden of disease and the obstacles of physical isolation. One part of his talk that I would like to share was his emphasis on the problems of the high birth rates in countries like Kenya.

Birth rates stay high for multiple reasons: little or no access to family planning, contraception or education for girls, low child survival and a persistent view that children represent the only security for parents in their old age. We know that the secondary school for girls, Katolo, Kenya will work towards greater education for women so that family planning can become a choice and women can become educated leaders of their own communities!

Sachs is the author of two fantastic books - The End of Poverty (2005) and most recently Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (2008)

The End of Poverty inspired the work and philosophy of the bricks + cartwheels team. Sachs describes his work in over 100 countries including Kenya and explains how our generation can choose to end extreme poverty by the year 2025. The methods he describes scream common sense that it is heart wrenching to understand the stubborn attitude of the first world and their reluctance to take part. Don’t think that this book is going to a dry, academic exercise. Sachs has a gift for making statistics and complex issues accessible, highly readable and memorable. Bono is a huge fan of the work of Sachs and writes in the book's introduction: “He helps us make sense of what senseless really means: 15,000 Africans dying each and every day of preventable, treatable diseases.”

I am yet to read Sachs latest book but Common Wealth explains the most basic economic reckoning that the world faces. We can address poverty, climate change, and environmental destruction at a very modest cost today with huge benefits for shared and sustainable prosperity and peace in the future, or we can duck the issues today and risk a potentially costly reckoning in later years. My signed copy of Sachs latest book is sitting by my bed. I can't wait to start reading it!

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