Making Waves

April 20, 2010

According to an African proverb, outsiders, or “those who are absent, are always wrong,” said Omar Dary, USAID Food Fortification Specialist, at a panel on nutrition at the Global Philanthropy Forum.  The proverb resonates strongly with a refrain emerging in our sessions today – that those communities that are most affected must be a part of solutions to global challenges, whether related to health, climate change, education or anything else.

In a morning plenary on advancing global health, panelists reported on good news.  Tom Scott, Deputy Director of Global Health Policy and Advocacy at the Gates Foundation, stated that it is time to change the way we talk about global health, from a focus on death to life, and from a focus on problems to solutions.  Our interventions are working. We need to change the narrative from one of despair, to one of hope, progress and change.

Jeff Sturchio of the Global Health Council assured us that increased investments in health interventions will lead to improvement on many other global challenges as well.  Roz Naylor of Stanford University reminded us that by working with partners across issue areas, we can better leverage our different strengths, and may well find that our friends in another field have solutions to the problems we seek to address.

Nutrition initiatives are an example of such multi-sectoral collaboration. Amy Lockwood of Project Healthy Children defined malnutrition – or hidden hunger – as what happens when people have sufficient food for energy needs, but not for getting the right micronutrients.  Omar Dary of USAID described food fortification and its potential for combating malnutrition.  Food fortification uses existing distribution channels and contextually familiar foods, and is thus especially effective in getting people the nutrients they need.  And, fortification could be done for less than fifty cents per person, if a full system of food fortification were put in place.

Another session this morning focused on franchising as a means of taking enterprise solutions to scale.  Franchises link investors to those on the ground who are familiar with and well connected within the desired market.  Franchise employees understand the decisions people face in the target market because they are of that group, said Anne Marie Burgoyne of the Draper Richards Foundation. Charles Slaughter of Living Goods combines high impact health products with high velocity distribution networks that can then better generate income.  He noted the significant parallels between the health-franchising model in the developing world and the Avon model of the early 19th century US.

In a conversation over lunch, I spoke with Pakistani philanthropist Syed Babar Ali of Packages Limited and Ghanaian philanthropist Patrick Awuah Jr, Founder of Ashesi University, a liberal arts university, in Ghana.  Ali emphasized the importance of extending opportunities for primary, secondary and tertiary education to the poor.  He has designed an innovative recruitment process to provide even the poorest of the poor an opportunity to enter the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and now, more than 10 percent of his student body is from the BOP.  Patrick movingly discussed his concern for the state of Africa’s education system and what this means for the future of the continent.  He founded Ashesi University in Ghana in hopes of creating a sea change in the nature of education in Africa, shifting the focus from memorization to problem solving, public service and creativity.  The leaders produced by the education system will shape Ghana, and Africa, over the next thirty years.  And they will need the capacity to analyze, synthesize, adapt and apply lessons learned in one setting to another.  These are the skills a liberal arts education provides. Equally important are integrity and compassion if they are to take Africa in the right direction.  Ashesi means “new beginnings”, and both Patrick and Mr. Ali are working to create this through education.

In parallel with this long-term vision for education, there are steps we must take now to ensure the future, availability, and sound management of water over the next generation.  By the year 2030, projections indicate a gap of 40 percent between demand for water and its supply.  The solution is no longer found in digging more wells, but rather in improving the efficiency of water use.  Meena Palaniappan of the Pacific Institute discussed the need to quantify the potential of alternative approaches – such as how much water we can get from rainwater harvesting, and how much money we can save by doing so.   Meena urged philanthropists to contribute funds to measuring how we use water, and where it can be used more efficiently.  It’s a waste to use high-quality drinking water to flush our toilets and water our flowers.  Similarly, how can we shift some of this water use to sanitation?  In India, there are now more cell phones than toilets.  We need to find ways to more efficiently use the water we have.  Monica Ellis of the Global Environment and Technology Foundation discussed specific entry points for philanthropists on these issues:  protecting water sources; water access/sanitation and hygiene (WASH); and on productive use issues.

In our conversation over lunch, Patrick Awuah told me a saying from Ghana: “Little drops of water make a mighty ocean.”  But he followed with his own saying, “But little drops of water also evaporate.”  His point – that we must not be afraid to be bigger than a little drop of water working in tandem with others.  And that we must not wait to act.  We must be bold and take risks, making waves on our own.

I am honored to have shared another day here with each of the wave-makers that comprise our GPF community.


Jane Wales
Co-Founder & President, Global Philanthropy Forum


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