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Bono: Fight poverty to reach the 'Zero Zone'

By Michael Elliott, Special to CNN
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Sun March 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bono called for more action to end poverty at the TED2013 Conference
  • Michael Elliott: The gains the world has made in fighting poverty are in jeopardy
  • Bono advocates for a "Zero Zone" where extreme poverty is eliminated by 2028
  • Elliott: Join Bono in spreading "factivism" to make the world a more equal place

Editor's note: Michael Elliott is president and CEO of the ONE Campaign, a global advocacy organization co-founded by Bono that is dedicated to fighting extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.

(CNN) -- When Bono took the stage at the TED2013 Conference in Long Beach, California, the U2 front man told the audience he had embraced his "inner nerd." "Exit the rock star," Bono said, "Enter the evidence-based activist - the factivist."

The speech was a call to action. Extreme global poverty has already been cut in half over the past 20 years, from 43% in 1990 to 21% in 2010. Bono said that if the current trajectory can be continued, extreme poverty could be virtually eliminated by 2030.

TED.com: Bono: 8 talks that give me hope

There has been astonishing progress in other areas of human development. More than 8 million people are on life-saving antiretroviral drugs, compared with only 200,000 a decade ago. In eight sub-Saharan African countries, malaria deaths have been cut by 75%; the rate of child mortality for those under 5 is down by 2.65 million deaths a year since 2000.

That's all great news, but there are two things that should give us pause. First, not enough people have any idea of the successes in the fight against global diseases and poverty. "It drives me nuts," said Bono, "that most people don't seem to know this news."

TED.com: What does extreme poverty look like today?

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Second, the gains the world has made are in jeopardy. They could be reversed with cuts to the budgets for vital institutions like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; they could be stopped in their tracks if the world allows corruption, inequality, apathy and inertia to dictate the pace -- or lack of it -- of progress.

TED.com: Do we need more worldwide development goals?

But if the world keeps the promises that it has made to itself to really fight extreme poverty and preventable disease, then nothing is impossible. Bono argued that if we used transparency -- which tackles corruption like nothing else -- and technology, we can get closer to the "Zero Zone," where extreme poverty is virtually eliminated by 2028. Then this generation would be what Nelson Mandela once challenged it to be: the "Great Generation" that did away with -- in Mandela's words, the "most awful offense against humanity" that extreme poverty represents.

TED.com: The quest to end poverty

Factivism, Bono said at TED2013, is a virtuous, data-based virus, and challenged his audience to "spread it, share it, pass it on ... by doing so, you will join us and countless others in what I truly believe is the greatest journey ever taken -- the ever-demanding journey of equality."

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Michael Elliott.

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