Although the optimization objectives for learning neural networks are highly non-convex, gradient-based methods have been wildly successful at learning neural networks in practice. This juxtaposition has led to a number of recent studies on provable guarantees for neural networks trained by gradient descent. Unfortunately, the techniques in these works are often highly specific to the particular setup in each problem, making it difficult to generalize across different settings. To address this drawback in the literature, we propose a unified non-convex optimization framework for the analysis of neural network training. We introduce the notions of proxy convexity and proxy Polyak-Lojasiewicz (PL) inequalities, which are satisfied if the original objective function induces a proxy objective function that is implicitly minimized when using gradient methods. We show that stochastic gradient descent (SGD) on objectives satisfying proxy convexity or the proxy PL inequality leads to efficient guarantees for proxy objective functions. We further show that many existing guarantees for neural networks trained by gradient descent can be unified through proxy convexity and proxy PL inequalities.