By Ted Caplow, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ted Caplow is an engineer and social enterprise entrepreneur who has developed ventures aimed at addressing renewable energy, water conservation and sustainable agriculture. The views expressed are his own.
Last year, my wife and I welcomed triplets. Born six weeks early, they spent their first month of life in intensive care. Thankfully, we had access to the best neonatal medicine and our children today are healthy and growing. This life-changing experience, however, made us acutely mindful that our good fortune is not shared by many families and children around the world. In fact, nearly 18,000 children under five die from preventable causes every day.
The death of any child is a tragedy, and its significance should not be diminished by the fact that we live in a world where wealth and knowledge are unevenly distributed. I made it my goal to ensure that my personal resources are better shared and used to save children’s lives.
So I set out with a simple question: What is the greatest number of children’s lives that can be saved with one million dollars? I knew that I wanted to save lives that would otherwise be lost, and that I was willing to invest this money into any highly credible project, in any country in the world, to achieve that goal.
Looking outside of traditional channels of foreign aid and philanthropy, I set out to uncover and fund the best action plans for reducing child mortality. Judging from the 565 proposals received from 70 countries in the inaugural competition for the $1 million Caplow Children’s Prize, it is clear that there is no single answer to child mortality. The prize’s eight finalists reflect the range of approaches needed to tackle such a complex problem.
The Children’s Prize was carefully designed to allow anyone with a valid proposal – from individuals, such as academicians, researchers, and grassroots advocates, to organizations of any size or type – to compete on a level playing field. To ensure the widest possible pool of proposals, we used digital media to reach potential applicants around the world, and developed a simple online application form that could be completed without a professional development staff.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the global epicenter for high child mortality rates, one-in-nine children die before the age of five. Six of the eight Children’s Prize finalists work in this region. In Malawi, the World Medical Fund proposes to mobilize a fleet of medical units housed in 4 x 4 vehicles to reach remote villages, while in a separate project, the University of Malawi proposes to expand access to emergency breathing devices in neonatal care settings by disseminating simplified machines that have been engineered, in partnership with Rice University in Texas, to cost a fraction of what the same gear costs in the developed world.
In Mali, another deeply impoverished African nation, two of our finalists address the same problem from different starting points: the giant Doctors Without Borders and the tiny Project Muso, each proposing comprehensive strategies to boost child survival through more numerous, better trained, and better equipped community health workers. Elsewhere in the region, RISE International proposes to dig wells to bring clean water to children in Angola and Plan International would offer a drug-based seasonal malaria prevention program to every single child in hard-hit districts of Burkina Faso.
Two proposals from South Asia round out the group: AMOR aims to expand a badly needed pediatric unit at its hospital in Afghanistan, and Anita Zaidi, the only individual among the finalists, proposes a community health program in a Pakistani fishing village.
While the number of deaths in children under five worldwide has declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012, according to the United Nations, it is evident that the Millennium Development Goal set by the United Nations – reduction of child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 – will not be met. We must continue to seek out innovative and effective approaches like those proposed by the Children’s Prize finalists and, wherever possible, connect them with new funding to enlarge the resource base working to save children’s lives.
The fact that the world is now more interconnected is critical to the fight against child mortality. Network-driven competitions like the Children’s Prize provide a model for a more competitive and transparent aid process, creating opportunities for meritorious solutions from any corner of the world to gain attention and support.
This same global network will also allow the Children’s Prize to closely monitor the progress of our winner and provide constructive feedback. Just as a person who volunteers at a local food pantry can see firsthand the results of his or her efforts and quickly assess where changes and improvements need to be made, communications technology has brought new insights to donors on how cost-effectively and swiftly programs can be implemented.
All of the finalist’s proposals address the urgent need for solutions to child mortality. To argue over philosophy and strategy is time wasted for children at risk. If we can instead encourage an open marketplace of solutions, we will be on a path toward that still distant future when every needy child around the world has access to the care that my own children were so fortunate to receive.