Local, international leaders discuss U.N.

Local civic leaders and international dignitaries focused on stamping out hunger, eliminating poverty and advancing gender quality both worldwide and in Milwaukee at Make Poverty History, a day of speakers and educators held Saturday.

The event focused on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (see graphic at lower right) and was held on Oct. 8, a day Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett declared to be Make Poverty History Day.

Speakers gathered at at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 3022 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Ending world hunger was the topic presented by the event's keynote speaker, former U.S. Senator George McGovern, now a United Nations Global Ambassador on World Hunger.

McGovern said an estimated 850 million people worldwide lack sufficient food. Their plight, he said, is "clearly one of the most deeply moral challenges of our time" and needs to be properly addressed by the U.S. government.

"I fully endorse the millennial goals to make (hunger) history," McGovern said. "Those are big goals, but it's do-able."

Forty million dollars would solve the issue in 10 years, McGovern said.

"That's not an insoluble task," he said.

George McGovern is the father of Susan McGovern, a local activist who was instrumental in organizing the speeches.

Several of the event's other speakers took on the issue of global poverty. Most of them endorsed the system of micro-loans, whereby a small amount of money is made available to a poor person in a Third World country for a small project —say, a rice farm or a small orchard—that will itself become a form of capital with time and investment from the loan applicant.

William Lynch, a Milwaukee attorney and president of the Tanzania Economic Development Initiative, which seeks to make economic advances in that African nation, endorsed the system as a potential solution to lack of investment in Third World countries.

Martin Sanchez, consul general for the Venezuelan Consulate in Chicago, also endorsed the system and said poor people were better financial customers than is commonly perceived.

"When compared to rich people, poor people are more likely to pay back because they'll need to get another loan," he said.

The advancement of women socially, politically and culturally also dominated the presentations of several speakers.

"Strong women lead to strong nations," said Zainab Salbi, the president and founder of the female-oriented aid group Women for Women International. "We have been discriminated against and marginalized against too much. We deserve incorporation."

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton expanded on Salbi's views by addressing the issue of race and framing it in a local perspective.

"We are not such a wealthy state that we can allow a sidelining of so much talent due to gender and race," she said.

Sam Romano, president of the South Central Wisconsin Chapter of the United Nations Association, which sponsored the event, emceed the speeches.

"I used to think the Millennium Development Goals were about Africa and South America and Southeast Asia," he said at one point. "But this is a reminder that the goals are here, too, in Milwaukee."

This article was published in The Marquette Tribune on October 11, 2005.