Reasons to be Cheerful?

Despite the economic crisis, there is still reason to feel optimistic about making progress on some of the nastiest diseases affecting the world’s poorest people. That was the message of a special event on philanthropy and global public health hosted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council on February 23rd. The event was extremely well attended, with a good mix of private philanthropists (such as Steve and Jean Case and Bill Clinton) and companies, which were out in force to mark International Corporate Philanthropy Day.

Matthew moderated a panel on neglected tropical diseases, in which the mood was very positive: the panelists agreed that putting money into drugs, and delivery systems, for these diseases has perhaps the highest return on investment of anything you can spend on in development. That should make it a relatively easy sell at a time when philanthropists are especially focused on getting maximum bang for their bucks. There is a good chance of making progress on each of the 13 leading NTDs by 2015.

Clinton delivered a powerful closing speech in which he reinforced the message of philanthrocapitalism, saying that on public health, and other philanthropy, when every dollar is so scarce, it is “immoral not to be relentlessly focused on effectiveness every single day”. He predicted that the non-profit sector will have to go through a restructuring of its funding and business models similar to that which the financial sector is now undergoing, and that direct fundraising from the public via the internet will be increasingly important.

He also said that the particular focus of this year’s meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative will be on how the philanthropic and for-profit firms can better leverage public spending to make government as effective as possible. In this new era of rapidly expanding government, that is absolutely the right issue to put top of the agenda.