Speaking to participants in the seventh annual Harvard Ministerial Leadership Forum in early June, Margaret Kenyatta, First Lady of Kenya, outlined the impressive results of her groundbreaking Beyond Zero campaign: In Kenya, over the past five years, infant mortality has fallen from 52 per 1,000 to 39 per 1,000 live births; under five mortality came down from 74 per 1,000 to 52 per 1,000. Maternal mortality dropped from 488 per 100,000 to 362 per 1,000.

While the First Lady acknowledges that there is still much work to do, this impressive track record is the result of imaginative effort and tireless leadership. by the First Lady galvanizing government and civil society, engaging the private sector in supportive ways, and most importantly mobilizing public awareness and engagement in the campaign. Kenyans are known globally for their extraordinary marathon running talent. Five years ago the First Lady had never run a marathon, but as she reflected on how to energize the Kenyan public in support of Beyond Zero she decided an annual marathon would be the perfect vehicle. Since then, more than 100,000 Kenyans have joined the First Lady in an annual marathon which is part fundraiser, but mainly a major opportunity to elevate public awareness of maternal and under-five mortality, as well as the disproportionate rate of HIV-infection among young women.

In the words of the First Lady; “…the idea was to spur a movement across the country about an issue that weighed heavily on the minds of ordinary Kenyans: Why were women across Kenya dying while giving life? Why were children dying before celebrating their fifth birthday? How could we tackle these preventable problems and make health care more accessible for marginalized groups?”

This is the kind of transformative, ambitious leadership the Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program aims to promote among government ministers. The annual Harvard Ministerial Forums, engaging education, health and finance ministers, challenges participants to use their position and authority to pursue far-reaching goals establishing a legacy of impactful leadership. The Beyond Zero campaign is the perfect example of a visionary effort that has led to institutional transformation in an area of distressing need. Two-thirds of all maternal mortality globally occurs in Africa; about 60% of new HIV infections in Africa are in girls under 24 years; in many African countries basis reproductive health services are not available and about 25% African women who want to access family planning cannot. These are major challenges in almost all developing countries, but they are not the only urgent priorities. The Forum help ministers think though the top human development priorities in each of their countries and map strategy for achieving historic goals.

Kenyan’s valiant The First Lady challenged Ministers at Harvard to think how they would make an enduring difference to the lives of the people of their nations. “…dare to use the all the resources at your disposal to build sustainable solutions that count for decades to come.”
For more information on the Beyond Zero Campaign click here.