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We are not doing enough

Peter Levi | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the second of three columns calling for greater attention to the global health crisis as discussed in the academic forum earlier this semester. The third will appear tomorrow.

In the past month, Notre Dame has brought the world a little closer. The recent Notre Dame Forum on Global Health assembled a group of intellectuals from the medical and economic fields to discuss the global poverty crisis. University President Father John Jenkins responded in the following week with a campus-wide announcement that Notre Dame would become closely involved with the Millennium Development Initiative in Uganda. Also, the latest issue of Notre Dame Magazine is entirely devoted to bringing this global problem to a wider audience beyond campus. I am impressed that the University is actively confronting an issue most Americans tend to ignore, but there is much more to do. My own perspective on extreme poverty changed drastically from blissful ignorance to compassionate concern while working in southern Africa. I realized we in the United States have the resources to alleviate the most extreme poverty, but as a society lack an understanding of both the situation and solutions. We must change our collective perspective and become more involved in and committed to the crusade to end poverty.

Notre Dame can demonstrate that ending global poverty is possible by investing in development projects within impoverished nations. The Forum and subsequent events have started the discussion, but now we must have action. Dr. Jeffrey Sachs articulated that a 0.7 percent donation of developed world Gross Domestic Product would solve extreme poverty by 2015. While 189 nations agreed to support Sachs and the Millennium Development Initiative, very few nations have come close to the necessary level of financial aid. Notre Dame can be an influential leader by committing a 0.7 percent donation toward the Initiative.

Notre Dame is financially secure with a solid donor base and large endowment. According to the 2005 Annual Report, $2.3 billion were available to the University as unrestricted net assets. These funds are available for Notre Dame to allocate as the University sees fit. A 0.7 percent donation, or $16.1 million, could provide 1.6 million bed nets to people in sub-Saharan Africa, protecting 3.2 million people and saving an estimated 80,000 lives. Alternatively, a Millennium Village of 23,000 people would be supported for 10 years with the same donation. This support would allow the village to generate income and become self-sufficient.

A financial donation of 0.7 percent from the University’s unrestricted net assets is a bold commitment; however, the benefits to Notre Dame are greater than the financial costs. Jenkins clearly stated the intellectual and societal benefits in his campus-wide e-mail, which include “assist[ing] villagers in implementing the interventions central to the Millennium Village Project and [providing] faculty and students, both graduate and undergraduate, with research opportunities that contribute to human development”. While Notre Dame has the opportunity to work with the Millennium Village established by Board of Trustees member Ray Chambers in Uganda, there are many other people and villages suffering from extreme poverty. I recommend that we support a new Millennium Village as an exchange for the wealth of intellect our students and faculty will receive.

In addition, a 0.7 percent commitment from Notre Dame may result in more money coming into the University. Firstly, donors have strong loyalty to Notre Dame and, being a Catholic institution, know that the University chooses programs to support with moral and spiritual merit. Donors reading this month’s Notre Dame Magazine will have many reasons to contribute, but none more wisely and simply stated than by Kerry Temple in the Editor’s Note. His reason for action said that “we are all God’s children” and “it is time to live as if we really believed it”. A financial commitment by the University would show that we believed it and other donors would respond in turn.

Secondly, with our own Millennium Village Project, faculty and students would be encouraged to write multidisciplinary grants for research in the village. Agencies and institutions awarding grants are seeking more projects that cross discipline boundaries and address issues of broad, global scope. Thus, while the $16.1 million donation is large, it will be indirectly repaid monetarily through donations and grants, but also provide great intellectual wealth to our community.

Notre Dame is capable of being a powerful role model in ending global poverty, not only among those directly involved with the University, but at institutions throughout the country. The benefits of intellectual knowledge, increased donor support and grant opportunities will prompt other institutions to follow the movement started by Notre Dame. We can continue to bring the world closer with students, faculty, alumni and others throughout the University broadening their perspectives and expertise while involved with the Millennium Village Project. The discussion initiated by the Forum opened a door for us to see the end of poverty through. Now we must follow the path articulated by Dr. Sachs and compliment our intellectual action with financial action.

Peter Levi is a biology graduate student participating in the new Global Linkages of Biology, the Environment, and Society (GLOBES) program. He can be contacted at plevi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.