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30 people making Zero Poverty 2030 possible

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Rome wasn't built in a day. It probably took two weeks, maybe even more. But while ancient city construction speed is mildly interesting, I'm much more interested in ending extreme poverty as quickly as possible worldwide. This quest is a fair bit more ambitious than building Rome, but we’re making great progress. 700 million fewer people lived in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 compared to 1990, which is tremendous. The momentum behind the push to end extreme poverty is significant, and the United Nations is currently in the process of setting the poverty eradication targets that governments worldwide will be aiming to achieve by 2030.

That all sounds fine, but it felt a bit faceless and abstract for my liking. So I've rounded up the faces and stories of 30 people who will be playing key roles in the quest to get extreme poverty off the scene by 2030, and I'd like you to meet them. They come from all corners of the world, have unique stories, and specific roles to play. Here’s my 2030 thirty, in no particular order!

1. Bill and Melinda Gates

While not everyone liked Microsoft, it’s harder to find fault with what Bill Gates is up to these days. He and his wife are in charge of one the largest private foundations in the world, and are dedicated using its $38 billion endowment to make substantial progress on global health and education. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major player in vaccination, literacy, and public health programs worldwide.

2. Xi Jinping

While international aid and development programs have been successful in lifting millions of people out of poverty, it is said that the economic transformation of China over the past quarter of a century has been no less significant in terms of reducing the global number of people living in extreme poverty. Xi Jinping was appointed President of China in late 2012, and his policy and spending priorities will shape the fortunes of China’s 1.3 billion people in the coming years.

3. Raj Shah

The USA is the world’s largest bilateral aid donor, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a government department with an annual budget of over $22 billion. Raj Shah is the 41 year old administrator of the department, and his 3,900 staff implement programs including disaster and poverty relief as well as environmental initiatives in developing countries worldwide.

4. Li Ruogu

Not a famous name, but a man with his hand on some important levers. Li Ruogo is the Chairman and President of the Chinese Government’s Export-Import (Exim) Bank. This bank is a big deal – financing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure and government loans in other developing countries. China uses its Exim bank to deliver assistance and enable major projects in many of the world’s poorest areas.

5. Narendra Modi

India’s new Prime Minister has come to power at a time when the economy of the world’s second most populous country has been underperforming. Modi’s reputation as a reformer and anti-corruption crusader was central to his election campaign, and his government now has the chance to create policies which will improve the livelihoods of the millions of Indians living in extreme poverty.

6. Muhammad Yunus

The Bangladeshi banker and social entrepreneur is considered to be the pioneer of microfinance, which involves extending small loans to low-income entrepreneurs who conventional banks aren’t interested in. Microfinance has progressed from an experiment to a central instrument to help people in poverty to help themselves. Yunus has been awarded a Nobel Prize for his work, and continues to be a prominent advocate for new approaches to capitalism in low income countries.

7. Warren Buffett

Known as the world’s most successful investor, Buffett has been picking winners in the stockmarket for many decades. The other thing he has picked is called The Giving Pledge, which is a commitment by some of the world’s wealthiest people to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. Buffett, currently worth $63 billion, has committed to giving more than 99% of his wealth to philanthropy, and is encouraging other wealthy individuals to also make a pledge.

8. Jim Yong Kim

Jim Kim is the President of the World Bank, and is therefore a significant figure in the push to end extreme poverty. The World Bank is a sister organisation to the United Nations, and provides loans to developing countries for capital programs. The bank has been criticised by some observers for its methods and philosophies, and Kim’s leadership offers an opportunity for the bank to ensure that its huge financial capacity is used as effectively as possible.

9. Donald Kaberuka

In addition to the World Bank, there are numerous regional development banks who finance public projects in developing countries. Donald Kaberuka is a Rwandan economist, and has been the President of the African Development Bank since 2005. Despite many stories of progress in Africa, it remains home to hundreds of millions of people living in extreme poverty, making Kaberuka and his bank very important in terms of bringing that number down.

10. Ban Ki-moon

After spending decades as a Korean diplomat, Ban Ki-moon became the Secretary General of the United Nations in 2007. With a reputation for modesty, Ban has been an influential advocate for peace and equality during his term as Secretary General. With conflict in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa damaging lives in 2014, his role as head of the UN is an important one to minimise the casualties, and prevent societies from collapsing into chaos and poverty.

11. Takehiko Nakao

Takehiko Nakao is the Japanese economist and diplomat who currently serves as the head of the Asian Development Bank. While Africa may come first to mind as the location of extreme poverty, the truth is that Asia is home to 60% of the world’s extreme poor. The ADB focuses on making loans to enable infrastructure projects in Asia-Pacific’s poorer nations, along with providing finance for health and education with the aim of reducing poverty.

12. Helen Clark

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark packed her bags in 2009, and headed to New York City to become the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This is the third highest position in the UN, with the UNDP tasked with providing expert advice, support, and resources to the world’s least developed countries. The UNDP’s ability to help national governments to create and execute better policies makes Clark’s role a key one in the push to end extreme poverty.

13. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

Yudhoyono is the outgoing President of Indonesia, with his ten years in the job set to end on October 20. While Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation, and home to millions of people hoping to escape extreme poverty, Yodhoyono’s central role in this process will now be an international one. As one of the three co-chairs of the United Nations Task Team to create the post-2015 development agenda, his will be a powerful voice on behalf of the world’s poor.

14. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Sirleaf is the first female elected head of state in Africa, and a significant female figure in world politics. As well as serving as the current President of Liberia, she is one of the three co-chairs of the UN Task Team for the post-2015 development goals. There is currently a global consultation and planning process underway to determine what these goals should be, and they will serve as the roadmap for the global effort to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030.

15. David Cameron

The third co-chair of the UN Task Team for the post-2015 development goals, Cameron spends his spare time being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The UK Government is a major aid donor in its own right, and Cameron’s central role in determining the post-2015 development goals makes him a doubly significant figure for the world’s extreme poor. The UK Government is the first major world economy to allocate 0.7% of its national income to aid.

16. Gyan Chandra Acharya

Another veteran diplomat working with the United Nations, Nepal’s Acharya is the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. His focus is entirely on the nations where extreme poverty is most common, and part of his role is to advocate on behalf of these nations to ensure that their interests are represented fairly at the UN level.

17. Amina J. Mohammed

When Ban Ki-moon checks in on the post-2015 development planning process, his Special Advisor is Nigerian Amina J. Mohammed. Formerly an adviser to the Nigerian President on the Millennium Development Goals, Mohammed is now tasked with being the link between the top brass at the UN, and the task team that is creating the next set of goals for international development, which will take us through to 2030.

18. Andris Piebalgs

After decades spent as a teacher, headmaster, education ministry director, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in Latvia, Piebalgs switched to working with the European Union on international issues. He is currently the European Commissioner for Development, a broad position which includes overseeing EuropeAid, the new regional aid program run by the EU. The European Union is a major aid donor on a global level, and supplies many of the resources in the battle against extreme poverty.

19. Julia Gillard

Australia and New Zealand are age-old rivals. So when New Zealand’s former Prime Minister went and took up a global position to battle extreme poverty, Australia did the same. Julia Gillard is the head of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), an independent, multilateral fund that is dedicated to getting kids in developing countries into school. Recent funding commitments by major donors such as the UK, US, and Australia gives GPE the opportunity to get millions more kids into school in the next few years.

20. Michel Sidibé

A UN career man from Mali, Sidibé is currently the Executive Director of UNAIDS, the United Nations body dedicated to reducing the prevalence of AIDS globally, and improving the lives of people living with AIDS. The parts of the world with the highest incidences of AIDS tend to also be home to large numbers of people living in extreme poverty, so the work of Sidibé and his team to improve health and wellbeing in these nations has significant capacity to reduce extreme poverty.

21. Seth Berkley

American doctor Seth Berkley has has a long involvement with viruses (virii?) and vaccinations, and he is now the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, a major organisation that accepts funding from governments and private donors worldwide, and uses it to ensure that people around the world receive vaccinations against preventable diseases such as polio, hepatitis B, tetanus, and others. By protecting those living in extreme poverty from preventable illnesses, it makes them better able to learn, work, and achieve.

22. Hugh Evans

As the CEO of the Global Poverty Project, Evans and his organisation are engaged in an advocacy campaign to highlight the importance of ending extreme poverty, and building a movement of people worldwide who will hold their governments to account. In addition to general campaigning, the Global Poverty Project holds an annual festival in New York City’s Central Park, which brings together world leaders, musicians, and 60,000 people to highlight the issues, commit to further action, and celebrate progress.

23. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

The former Deputy President of South Africa, Mlambo-Ngcuka is now the Executive Director of UN Women. Unsurprisingly given the name, UN Women is a United Nations body dedicated to improving the lives of women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of access to education, and lack of access to reproductive health services. The progress that Mlambo-Ngcuka and her colleagues make has a direct impact on those living in extreme poverty.

24. Anthony Lake

After decades as a foreign policy adviser in the United States, Lake is now the Executive Director of UNICEF, the UN organisation that is all about the kids. As one of the UN’s biggest bodies, UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian and development assistance to children and mothers in developing countries. Lake and UNICEF work together with many of the other people on this list to boost the prospects of earth’s newest citizens.

25. Babatunde Osotimehin

Another Nigerian, which is a good thing, considering that Nigeria is rocketing up the list of the world’s most populated nations. Osotimehin was formerly Nigeria’s Health Minister, and is currently in charge of the United Nations Population Fund, a UN body whose main job is to gather worldwide data on health, wellbeing, and population. Good quality data is vital if we want to understand exactly what our challenges are in ending extreme poverty. Without accurate data, it’s mighty hard for governments, NGOs, and international bodies to select the right policy responses.

26. Margaret Chan

Most people care about their own health, but Chan cares about yours, too. As the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, this Hong Kong native and her team work to combat outbreaks of infectious diseases, monitor food and nutrition worldwide, and more recently have been battling the rise of obesity and non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The WHO’s work is especially important during emergencies such as the current ebola outbreak in West Africa, which is threatening to send large numbers of people further into poverty.

27. Graça Machel

While Machel is the only person in history to have been first lady of two separate republics (South Africa and Mozambique, if you were wondering), she belongs in this list because of her work with The Elders, a collective of veteran world leaders who contribute policy advice to public bodies, and work on some of the world’s toughest problems, such as climate change, HIV/AIDS, and extreme poverty. Machel’s work as a human rights advocate, particularly on child marriage, is helping to generate change in poor communities.

28. José Mujica

Former freedom fighter Mujica became the Uruguayan President in 2010, but there’s something about him that makes him different. He is referred to as “the world’s poorest president”, due to his preference for a humble lifestyle. He donates more than 90% of his monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. The money is of course happily accepted by the recipients, but Mujica’s bigger impact is to set an example for others, both in Uruguay and overseas.

29. Michael Elliott

Elliot is a journalist by trade, having worked at TIME, The Economist, and others. Now he’s the President and CEO of ONE, a global campaigning and advocacy organisation that is dedicated to fighting extreme poverty. With Bono as a co-founder, and the support of many of the world’s largest NGOs, Elliot’s organisation serves to bring together supporters behind a common cause, and be a powerful voice for change.

30. Justine Greening

UK politician Greening is currently the country’s Secretary of State for International Development, which means that her recommendations inform the aid and development policies of this major aid donor. As leading contributors to abovementioned programs such as GAVI and GPE, the funding decisions of Greening’s team have a big say in the ways in which extreme poverty is combated worldwide.