Jeffrey D. Sachs,  the Director of The Earth Institute, Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University recently came to speak at Stanford University and raised some interesting points that are very relevant to the questions that are continually being asked by SSIR.

Sachs stressed continually the interconnectedness of all of the problems in the world. This is an idea that I really resonate with.

There are six features of sustainable development that proposed were most important:

    1. We don’t yet have the institutions to address the global problems that the world is facing.
    2. The problems that we face unfold gradually over time. The time horizons of our political institutions don’t match the problems we face.
    3. The problems involve ecosystems, which don’t work like a market economy.
    4. There’s profound uncertainty to the problems we are encountering. We don’t know well enough how the earth’s physical systems work, and we don’t understand all the ways in which our own society affects the Earth.
    5. Population growth can and should be limited. He stressed that population stabilization through contraception, education and family planning was not in fact as expensive as everybody thinks it is.
    6. Solutions to sustainable development involve large-scale technological transformation. He noted that this is something that the world has not yet focused enough attention on. 

Sachs argued that the destabilizing poverty that the world is facing is just getting worse. He suggested that the key question is whether it is possible for economic growth to continue whilst also considering the protection of the environment.

He quoted as he often does from JFK’s American Commencement Address -  “So, let us not be blind to our differences—but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

These sentiments of JFK are the inspiration behind much of what Sachs does, in particular with the Millennium Villages Project. The aim of this project is to show that it is possible to escape extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa through working to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Last year I was personally involved with a project that assists the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals called the U Movement. The U Movement is a global grass roots movement aimed at accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals by developing/leveraging advanced social network technologies.  The U Movement has developed innovative new technologies such as UKIs ™ (Widgets with Wiki capability) and UKIPEDIA™ (Mega Matrix of goodness and compassion on the web) to empower individuals, NGOs, and governmental agencies, to generate awareness, find volunteers, and receive funding for their MDG related projects.

I completely agree with Sachs when he argued that first and foremost it is necessary for us to locate and instill the kind of human values that will make all of this feasible. He argued that we need a universal ethical system that enables us to develop a united vision globally of our problems so that we can work towards common solutions.

Sachs contended that when people ask whether or not aid works, they are asking the wrong question. Instead, we should be asking how one can design institutions that can better address the problems that the world is facing.

Although Sachs is often criticized for what is considered to be his naïve optimism towards economic issues, I appreciate the positive stance that he takes on development.