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How Much Do New Yorkers Know About the Millennium Development Goals?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Professor Jeffrey Sachs travels the world explaining and promoting the Millennium Development Goals. This week, those goals will be among the main topics addressed by world's leaders -- including President Obama -- at the annual U.N. summit. But how much does the average New Yorker know about the the ambitious U.N. project to eradicate poverty by 2015?

I met up with Sachs, the director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, at a Starbucks near Columbia University on a recent Saturday. The professor is passionate about his work, he's the special adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the MDGs, but he’s not normally in the habit of discussing his mission to end world hunger over iced coffee. That was my idea. I was curious to see how much New Yorkers know about the biggest aid partnership project in history. As the conversation and coffee started to flow, a few select customers got a one and one audience with Sachs.

The first invitee to the informal summit, Mirzad Ajudanian, a mathematics professor at CUNY who immigrated from Iran says, “I have a lot of admiration for people who are making changes in the world, as I’m from a third world country myself.”

Vince Lombardi, an engineer who was trying to get some work done on a laptop says, “In the third world, they’re probably asking the same questions that we ask as Americans: how do we make it in society, how do we advance our career?"

Victoria Lawn, a medical student who had just returned from the Millennium Campus Conference says, “Professor Sachs, people like you have laid out a blueprint, now I’m so excited to just do it! It’s amazing the small amount of time that can cause a transformation and hopefully ripple into something big.”

What I loved most about the WNYC “coffee summit” was watching the professor chatting so comfortably with perfect strangers and obviously having fun. Apart from Victoria, nobody in the coffee shop had a clue about the MDG, but this didn’t put the professor off. “I’m very gratified by what I heard, I’m not shocked that people don’t know the terms. All of the people we talked to want goals like this to succeed, they know how important they are, even if they haven’t heard the words.”

After our chat, at a high-level U.N. meeting, Sachs mentioned what a good opportunity it had been to learn what the average New Yorker thinks. Maybe in a very small way, some New Yorkers helped inspire Sachs.

Since Sachs isn’t usually available at your local coffee shop, you can read more information about the Millennium Development Goals here.

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