“The character of our results” in child survival will tell the true story.

Ben Affleck takes the stage at the Call to Action on Thursday, June 14.

Ben Affleck. Hillary Clinton. The Ministers of Health from Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and a number of other countries. CEOs. Technical experts. Donor representatives. All in all, attendees from 80 different countries sat in Gaston Auditorium last Thursday, June 14th, to come together to champion child survival.

And oh how these champions waxed poetically about the cause…

Hillary Clinton mesmerized me  with her insightful and honest remarks about child survival gains to date, saying “Progress is not the same as success.” We still have a ways to go to meet new global under-five mortality targets.

Ben Affleck went the opposite route of nearly ever celebrity advocate I’ve ever seen speak, and was extremely deferential to all of the individuals in the DRC delegation, talking about how important supporting Congolese-led, community-based organizations was to his Eastern Congo Initiative.

Kathleen Sebelius, US Secretary for Health and Human Services, had the money quote of the day, saying “Even one preventable child death is one too many.”

At least four new global public private partnerships or initiatives were announced at the event, complete with a few moments of signing declarations on stage. And enough press releases were put out that Tom Murphy simply tried to aggregate them all together and keep up with the stream of announcements.

I love the renewed enthusiasm for child survival (though I think Ben Affleck was really the tipping point for outlets like E! and Hollywood Report writing on the event), and hope it continues through our 2035 target. Having a structured, strategic roadmap for how we’re going to get to an under five mortality rate of less than 20 deaths per live births in every country around the world is fantastic. But how is it that after months of planning and anticipation leading up to the event, the entire first day consisted of sitting and being talked at, with almost no time for interaction between the illustrious list of attendees? As I live tweeted throughout the day, that question – why so many talking heads and no time for conversations? – kept popping up in different ways.

It’s always a challenge in agenda setting to get the right balance between presentations and unstructured time for interactions, but I hope that we’ll see more conversations and fewer sit-and-listen presentations at future events. There was a wealth of enthusiasm for the child survival cause and technical expertise in that room last week, even if most of the time was spent sitting and listening. Combining this enthusiasm and knowledge with appropriate funding for scaling up various interventions and supporting the continuum of care from pregnancy through a child’s fifth birthday has real potential to impact child survival outcomes.

Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s Executive Director, closed his own presentation by saying,  “It is the character of our results not the quality of our rhetoric that will save millions of children.” I’m hopeful that, as many of the speakers and press releases mentioned, this event was just the beginning of many conversations and new activities to come. We’re embarking on a new child survival revolution, and hopefully it will be one that will make Jim Grant proud.

A number of great posts on the highlights and successes of the Call to Action for Child Survival have been written by other people including Erin (ONE Campaign), UN Dispatch and the many listed on the Kaiser Family Foundation’s roundup. I highly encourage you to read them, as it was a fantastic event despite the limited time for interacting. Mark Goldberg (PSI Healthy Lives) also posted a great interview with USAID Administrator Raj Shah about the 5th Birthday campaign & Call to Action that’s worth a listen.

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