George Soros has pledged $27.4 million to aid development in targeted villages across rural Africa.
Soros also pledged up to $20 million in loans to support business projects within those villages over the next five years.
Soros says that some of the board members of the Open Society Foundations opposed his giving any donations to the project when it was first launched five years ago, considering it risky. But he said he gave money anyway, "because it was my money" and the idea seemed "worth a shot." His $50 million pledge in 2006 was distributed over the next five years.
A report on the project's first five years, released Monday, shows that the proportion of households in the targeted villages with access to improved drinking water soared to 68 percent from 17 percent, and students benefiting from school meal programs grew to 75 percent from 25 percent. Average maize yields more than tripled during the same period.
The Millennium Villages project aims to help 500,000 people in 10 countries across Africa to reach U.N. development goals and offer a model for the remainder of the continent. It is directed by Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University's Earth Institute, and operates closely with U.N. agencies.