The Case for Optimism

From technology to equality, five ways the world is getting better all the time

  • Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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    The troika of government, the private sector and foundations is seeking to improve health care for the long term. I was in Rwanda over the summer for the launch of that country's Human Resources for Health program, which is addressing a critical shortage of health workers. Rwanda has only 633 physicians to treat a population of over 10 million. In partnership with 13 top-ranked U.S. schools, the program is addressing this deficit not by staffing clinics and hospitals with foreign specialists but by building a local, sustainable education system that will reduce the country's reliance on foreign aid.

    Other good examples of innovation and cooperation have come through members of CGI. In 2010, the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center committed to improve cancer care in Haiti, Mexico, Jordan and Rwanda in collaboration with Partners in Health, co-founded by Dr. Paul Farmer, at their locations and other cancer facilities. Partners in Health has also teamed up with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation and the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's center to open the Cancer Center of Excellence in Butaro, Rwanda--a part of the country that until four years ago didn't have a basic hospital for a population of over 320,000. The new center goes beyond basics to supply world-class care, not just for local Rwandans but for the entire region.

    Finally, in the U.S., where Americans face an epidemic of childhood obesity, one way we're fighting it is to have healthier beverage choices in schools. The beverage industry voluntarily committed to changing the mix in schools across the country by removing full-calorie soft drinks and replacing them with lower-calorie, more nutritious options. At the beginning of the 2009--10 school year, 98.8% of all surveyed schools and school districts were in compliance with the guidelines, which meant that shipments of full-calorie carbonated soft drinks to schools had dropped by 95%.



    There's no denying that too much of the world is still mired in an economic slowdown, but some of the brightest examples of significant and lasting opportunity are right under our noses. In tough times, it's harder to accept that some economic instability is good--if there were no possibility of failure, there would be no room for success.

    In spite of all the recent criticism of free trade and free markets, it's important to remember that in the 25 years leading up to the current economic crisis, more people worldwide moved from poverty to the middle class than at any other time in history.

    The problem is that the population is growing fastest in the areas least able to take advantage of the benefits of the modern world. Talent and intelligence may be spread evenly across the planet, but opportunity is not.

    All around the world, in poor countries and rich ones, the private sector, governments and nonprofits are combining their skills and resources to form networks of creative cooperation to boost local economies while addressing problems like climate change and poverty. Smallholder farmers in Africa are planting trees so they can not only harvest timber or fruit but also profit by selling carbon credits on the world market.

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