Over 750 people packed into Town Hall on Apr. 26th to hear journalist Tom Paulson grill four experts in global development. The goal was to discuss everything from “can charity create change” to “what does global health really mean” as said by Paulson. Panellists included Christopher Elias, the president and CEO of PATH; William Foege, a Senior medical advisor for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Wendy Johnson, Director for Health Alliance International; and Joseph Whinney, founder and CEO of Theo Chocolate.
As Paulson pointed out, Seattle is not going to save the world singlehandedly, but as he said “it is a hub of a region that has become do-gooder central.” In addition to this Seattle has become known for global health and is a city that provides opportunity for collaboration within this sector. Many Global Washington members were present at the event, which was fitting since the topics discussed revolved around re-examining global development.
The presence of Theo Chocolate in a discussion primarily about global health is evidence that there are powerful intersections both between the different sectors of global development and also between development work and the business world. As Paulson and the panellists emphasized during the discussion, you cannot discuss health without discussing poverty as the two are integrally connected. These points of intersection are central to Global Washington’s work as we bring together diverse players in development to facilitate greater innovation and collaboration. We hope that discussions like this one continue shed light on how we can effectively utilize the enthusiasm and resources in Washington to create sustainable global change.
Some of the responses to the questions were particularly relevant to Global Washington members are seen below.
Paulson: So what is Global Health?
“The world is divided into things that are broken and things that are fixed; global health is fixing things that are broken,” said Foege. The conversation later broadened to include the other panellists. “There has been a shift in perspective from ‘global health is someone else’s problem’, to ‘this is a problem that we all deal with’” said Elias. He said that this change came from three things: first, that trade and travel shrank the world; second, that there was a need to address inequalities; and third, that we have moved into understanding systems.
“Technology almost always plays a role, but almost never in isolation” said Elias. He expanded on this statement saying that to have an effect on global health, we need technology with behaviour change. Wendy Johnson, in a truly academic approach, brought up the theory behind these two techniques, explaining the concept of the “magic bullet” and “social justice.” “We like to ignore the tension” between these two methods she said, giving the example of malaria. While Johnson was more critical of our progress in moving towards the social justice approach (she was not convinced that it had happened yet), she did seem optimistic that Seattle organizations were in support of this transformation. At one point, she even quoted Elias in a former lecture where he said “you can’t perform a c-section with a cell phone,” thereby showing the agreement across the industry that behaviour change is as important as technology. Though there was not much controversy between the panellists over the questions Paulson posed, the discussion did strike a sensitive chord in the hearts of the audience as it turned to our relationship with poverty.
Paulson: Why are we so comfortable with poverty?
“We have to tolerate poverty because we all benefit from it,” responded Foege. He explained that everything in our lives comes at a cheaper cost as a direct result of poverty. Johnson said that we must remember our bias in development discussions as coming from a position of privilege. She brought up the point that Seattle is one of the whitest cities in the country as evidence of this privilege. “Until we find the right leaders, poverty will continue to be a problem because we are all so invested in it,” summed up Foege.
Paulson: Isn’t the cheapest option always going to win out?
Not necessarily. According to Whinney, “the idea of social responsibility is an integrated approach,” he said. He gave the example of the BBC documentary that came out ten years ago depicting the abysmal conditions for those working on coco farms. Initially this got large chocolate companies on board with paying farmers more he explained, but: “the needle hasn’t moved.” The needle he was referring to is a measurement of the change of salary that people are working in. “The idea of CSR has to move the needle and there must be transparency,” he said.
Later, Paulson brought up difficulty in raising awareness while also addressing the problems that a development organization may be having in achieving their goals. Elias gave the example of the Global Fund, which had some corruption issues with their TB fund a few years ago. While this corruption became news, “the story that did not get told was that the Global Fund’s increased accountability measures was what discovered the issue. To me this was a story of success,” Elias said.
Paulson: Why are so many young people getting involved in development and what would you say to them?
Simply put by Whinney answer to the first question was: “we all want to do something with our lives.” Elias explained that there are more jobs now then there were when he came through the system but that “the demand outstrips the supply.” He said that what is missing for an applicant now is that first experience. People need time to go abroad, volunteer and work with programs directly, but that “students are carrying too much debt” to do so. In regards to paid opportunities, Elias said that there is a difficulty in finding funds for paid internships.” He also mentioned that PATH gets hundreds of inquiries about these positions, which are not available, which made the future for graduates look slightly bleak.
Later, questions expanded to include the audience, whom asked several questions about our right to work on global health when our own healthcare is lacking. Johnson gave a great quote by Lila Watson, which said: “if you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.” An audience that would question their own perspective, in a city that shows such collaboration between sectors is proof that this is the approach we are hoping to follow.