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A document, The Goalkeepers Report, launched yesterday by the co-founder of Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr. Bill Gates, details how nations are doing in relation to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Excerpts from the report

We usually express our optimism by highlighting some of the recent mind-blowing improvements in the human condition—like the fact that advances in medicine have saved 50 million lives just since we started our foundation in 2000. We believe it’s worth repeating that until we’re blue in the face.

Sometimes, though, optimism requires being candid about the hard problems that still need to be solved. That’s what this year’s Goalkeepers Data

Report aims to do: Confront a pressing yet neglected challenge, and identify some of the most promising strategies to meet it.

To put it bluntly, decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life. If current trends continue, the number of poor people in the world will stop falling—and could even start to rise.

But the reason we started our foundation is that current trends don’t have to continue. We believe— and history proves—that poor countries can chart a new course by investing in their young people.

Today’s booming youth populations can be good news for the economy; if young people are healthy, educated, and productive, there are more people to do the kind of innovative work that stimulates rapid growth. This helps explain the amazing progress of the past generation in most of the world, and it is the key to spreading that progress everywhere.

Our late friend Hans Rosling brilliantly described people’s different standards of living using the metaphor of how they travel: From sandals to bicycles to cars to airplanes.

Since 2000, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of the extreme poverty represented by the sandal. The number is so huge that it’s almost impossible to appreciate the scale of this achievement. Above the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day, people may still be poor, but they can begin to think beyond mere survival and look to the future.

This progress has come in waves. The first wave centered on China; the second wave centered on India. As a result of successes in Asia, the geography of poverty is changing: Extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries.

By 2050, that’s where 86 percent of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live. Therefore, the world’s priority for the next three decades should be a third wave of poverty reduction in Africa.

One of the obstacles the continent faces is rapid population growth. Africa as a whole is projected to nearly double in size by 2050, which means that even if the percentage of poor people on the continent is cut in half, the number of poor people stays the same. Even so, for most African countries, the outlook is positive. For example, Ethiopia, once the global poster child for famine, is projected to almost eliminate extreme poverty by 2050.

The challenge is that within Africa, poverty is concentrating in just a handful of very fast-growing countries. By 2050, for example, more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. Even within these countries, poverty is concentrating in certain areas.

Poverty in these areas is unique. It’s rooted in violence, political instability, gender inequality, severe climate change, and other deep-seated crises. It’s also tied to other problems, including high rates of child mortality and malnutrition. As a result, today’s poorest people have significantly fewer opportunities than most of the billion people who escaped poverty during the first two waves.

The conclusion is clear: To continue improving the human condition, our task now is to help create opportunities in Africa’s fastest-growing, poorest countries.

This means investing in young people. Specifically, it means investing in their health and education, or what economists call “human capital.”

Africa is a young continent. Nearly 60 percent of Africans are under the age of 25. Compare that to 27 percent of Europeans. The median age across Africa is 18. Compare that to 35 in North America (or 47 in Japan).

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion about what happens if large numbers of young people in the poorest countries are denied opportunities to build better lives. People worry about insecurity, instability, and mass migration. We wish they would also recognize young people’s enormous potential to drive economic growth. They are the activists, innovators, leaders, and workers of the future.

Investing in young people’s health and education is the best way for a country to unlock productivity and innovation, cut poverty, create opportunities, and generate prosperity. Human capital is not a magic bullet, but it has played a pivotal role in the  success of emerging economies around the world.

Projections show that human-capital investments can do the same for the poorest countries in Africa.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, these investments could increase the size of the economy by nearly 90 percent by 2050, making it much more likely that the poorest countries can break through their stagnation and follow the path of China and India.

There are blueprints for investing successfully in human capital.

First, health: Most African countries have participated in the global revolution in child survival.


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