Three Cheers for GAVI

The news that $4.3 billion of new money was pledged on June 13th to vaccinate children in the developing world against several deadly diseases is worth celebrating. The money was promised at the first ever pledging conference for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which exceeded its target of $3.7 billion. That means that some 250m children will be protected sooner than expected and, GAVI estimates, more than 4m premature deaths will be avoided.

GAVI is the best example yet of philanthrocapitalism delivering real large-scale impact. Launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000, it is a pioneering partnership between private philanthropy, NGOs, business, multilateral agencies and governments.

The pledging conference was co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Britain and Liberia. It was preceeded by news that pharmaceutical companies have agreed to supply at a significantly reduced cost a range of life-saving vaccines, including a two-thirds price reduction on the rotavirus vaccine, which combats the leading cause of diarrhoea deaths. At it, governments collectively more than doubled their previous commitments and new donor governments said they will give for the first time, including Japan and Brazil. GAVI’s largest corporate donor, La Caixa Foundation, extended its financial commitment and new donors Anglo American plc and British hedge fund philanthropy Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) made their first pledges.

GAVI’s ability to attract additional funds at a time when budgets, particularly of govenments, are under severe pressure, is evidence both of a degree of political courage (not least by Britain’s ruling coalition, which is putting up over a quarter of the new money) at a time of scepticism about the value of international aid and, above all, of the fact that this is one aid policy that really works. As David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, pointed out, “GAVI was one of the very top performers in our root-and-branch review of the agencies that deliver British aid because it demonstrates tangible results.” That said, even more money is needed if this opportunity to save lives is to be fully grasped, as even all the new funding will not be sufficient to prevent many premature deaths.

As we note in our book, the creation of GAVI was an important innovation by the philanthrocapitalism movement, not least because it showed that private actors could drive change in government and multilateral policies. Bill Gates told us that “GAVI was our first toe in the water – when we said, OK, it’s not just us spending our money wisely and bringing in smart people that do things; it’s us as one of the convenors of UN agencies which will help developing governments to create an initiative.”

Admittedly, the first round of GAVI financing taught Mr Gates a lot about the realities of using private money to leverage government funds: his foundation’s first $750m grant over five years to launch GAVI did not initially attract anything like the amount of government money that was expected. Now, his foundation does not commit unless its partners also put their money on the table at the same time.

This week’s announcement of the additional $4.3 billion for GAVI, to be deployed by 2015, suggests that this harder-nosed approach to partnership – in which this time the Gates Foundation is attracting an extra $3.3 billion from others in leverage on its $1 billion gift – is paying off, and should be the model for other such philanthrocapitalistic partnerships. Certainly, the children of the developing world will be better for it.

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