The success of the world’s greatest to-do list

Every morning, I begin my day by writing a to-do list in my diary. I can’t remember when I started this habit, but I’m certain my productivity has increased exponentially as a result.

I write down irksome duties that nevertheless must get done; I break down complex tasks into several simpler ones -- and, whoa, what looked like an impossible mountain to climb suddenly appears as a series of manageable mole hills. Every time I complete a task, I put a check next to that item on the list.

I’d be lying if I said I manage to get everything done every day. If I did, I’d probably be running for president by now. All the same, at the end of the day, I have a record of achievements, plus an itemized account of what needs more work -- something that will inform the to-do list for the following day.

Perhaps the greatest to-do list of all time is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that all United Nations member states agreed to work toward in September 2000. The object of this to-do list is nothing less than the radical reduction of the most extreme forms of poverty by 2015.

An impossible dream? Well, it might seem like it -- but break the task down into eight separate goals, identify how success can be measured for each goal, and suddenly, dramatically improving the well-being of millions of people starts to look like a reasonable proposition.

Baby Joyce with her mother Seida enjoy the warmth of a new blanket from World Vision in Zambia. Now, Seida no longer has to worry about how to keep her daughter warm. ©2011 Collins Kaumba/World Vision

This feeling was underscored for me last week by the release of the “Levels & Trends in Child Mortality” report (pdf) by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. It shows that the number of deaths of children under 5 worldwide has dropped from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million today. It’s true that unless there is more rapid progress in improving the health of children in this age group, the world will fail to reach goal #4, which calls for reducing by two-thirds the mortality rate of children under 5 by 2015. Nevertheless, the fact that so many are working toward this goal has ensured that significant progress is being made.

Moreover, by regularly checking progress against the goal, we can identify problem areas that are holding things up. For example, more than 70 percent of under-5 deaths occur within the first year of life. Clearly, more attention needs to be paid to the health of newborns. World Vision is already on to this. It now implements "the 7-11 approach"-- seven steps to protect the health of pregnant moms, and 11 steps to protect the health of newborns. By paying attention to simple things like hand washing, breastfeeding, and vaccination, thousands of lives are being saved.

If you check out the MDG report for 2011, you will find similar progress toward the other seven goals -- things like better access to clean water, declining malaria deaths, more children in school, and reduced HIV infections. Sure, progress is sometimes patchy, but the goals are proving remarkably effective in spurring change in the right direction.

My feeling is that the formulation of the MDGs in 2000 will one day come to be regarded as one of the most outstanding political achievements of the last 1,000 years. Not bad for a simple to-do list.

Read related story: Big decline in global child deaths vindicates health efforts

World Vision is a proud partner with the ABC News Million Moms Challenge -- an effort to raise awareness and funds to help mothers and children survive and thrive all across the globe.


    Its great to know and hear the good news that World Vision is involved in various ways in achieving the MDGs. While working with World Vision in India, I felt it is more of motivating the primary service providers, the implementors, the managers and the policy makers who are active in various development activities. The Capacity of the stakeholders, their motivation, their dedication and committment matters a lot for the achievement. Proper planning, defined roles and the involvement of the community is much more important.

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