At an event at the World Economic Forum last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN officials joined members of the MDG Advocacy Group and leaders from government, the private sector, and civil society to highlight the importance of investing in the rights and well-being of adolescent girls in order to alleviate poverty and accelerate progress on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway joined the event as the new Co-chair of the MDG Advocacy Group, alongside Co-chair President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. MDG Advocates at the event included Dho Young-shim, Philippe Douste-Blazy, and Jeffrey Sachs, who joined in an intergenerational dialogue with Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, and Sumaya Saluja, Youth Advocacy Group, Global Education First Initiative.

Participants representing the United Nations, private sector, government and media emphasized the new level of resources and partnerships required for the health and education of adolescent girls and announced new plans to drive progress in the remaining 707 days of the MDGs.

According to a broad body of research, empowering adolescent girls and promoting their rights results in benefits for families, communities, and countries: healthier families, higher personal incomes, and economic growth.

President and CEO of the UN Foundation Kathy Calvin opened the program with a call to action to the public and private sectors to join forces, including through partnerships such as Every Woman Every Child and the Global Education First Initiative, to make tangible progress on the well-being of girls in the next 707 days.

Speaking to the largely business audience gathered at the World Economic Forum, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “This is more than a philanthropic issue. This is a challenge to do business better. It is a chance to change institutions so they reflect more enlightened attitudes about girls and include strategies to improve their lives.”

In her debut as Co-chair of the MDG Advocacy Group, Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway emphasized the significance of girls’ education, “When you invest in a girl’s education, she feeds herself, her children, her community and her nation, charting a path towards a better world in which human rights are respected and there is dignity for all. That is why delivering education to all girls is so vital.”

Speaking to the importance of child health, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda added, “Investing in girls’ empowerment calls for increased investment in the good health of the girl child as we do for the boys, so that they all grow into balanced human beings with equal opportunities to realize any aspirations they choose to follow in life.”

The Office of the UN Special Envoy for Financing the Health MDGs and for Malaria Ray Chambers used the opportunity to launch a new plan for MDG 4. “We are within striking distance of achieving the health MDGs but only if we remain focused and coordinated for the next 707 days. For example, achieving MDG 4 on Child Health requires that we save the lives of 2.2 million children in the next two years. Yet the world is on track to save 1.2 million, leaving a gap of one million more child deaths to avert. We have come together with a quarter-by-quarter acceleration plan focused on key activities, including integrated campaigns and community health workers, to do just that. Funders and implementers are committed to doing everything in their power to execute this plan,” said Chambers.

The UN Special Envoy for Global Education put forward the drive to create “Education without Borders” and deliver education in emergencies, reaching over half of the out-of-school population. The plan starts with Lebanon where work with UNICEF, UNHCR and others is underway to reach nearly half a million out-of-school children. From August, the UN Special Envoy will move forward with education partners in a 500-Day countdown starting on World Humanitarian day, tackling they key barriers – discrimination against girls, child brides and child labor – in campaigns to get as close to zero by the end of 2015.

Hannah Godefa, UNICEF National Ambassador for Ethiopia, emphasized how girls can realize their potential, “Through education, the dreams of girls like me around the world will be formulated into plans of action.”

Participants in the event signed the Girl Declaration, expressing their support for the voices of girls to be included in the next development framework, which will replace the MDGs in 2015.

The World Economic Forum brings together leaders from business and many other sectors to discuss critical global issues, and participants at the event emphasized that girls’ rights must be on the global agenda. Participants also stressed the importance of partnerships, citing the Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child movement and Global Education First Initiative as critical for engaging the private sector to empower girls and make progress on the MDGs.

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