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Moving Into Gear

26 January 2006

Bleary-eyed delegates stagger to their early morning meetings following late night Davos networking. My day started with a breakfast meeting with a Swiss journalist framing a familiar bunch of questions, “why are you here, is corporate responsibility a myth, is anyone seriously concerned with the world’s problems and can you make money by being good”. I ramble through my fairly standard responses, nodding gently at passing friends groping for coffee, Ricardo Young from Instituto Ethos in Brazil, Bjorn Stigson from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch and David Randall from the International Institute of Sustainable Development. The hotel where I am staying seems to be a parking lot for a veritable gaggle of very civil shakers and movers.

Then I am off into the sunny arbor of Davos, en route to a meeting of Foundation Leaders Advisory Group, where Jed Emerson from the Generation Foundation will lead a discussion on the most updated thinking and practice on so-called ‘blended value investing’, investing for a combination of financial and social returns.

Yesterday’s Big Debate did not hold my attention, and instead I found myself in a private meeting of WEF’s Global Health Initiative, an incredibly assortment of pharmaceutical and other companies, global health partnerships, and international agencies working on HIV/AIDs, malaria and TB. The numbers, often shocking, sometimes inspiring, rolled out from the various speakers and participants – 3 million a year die from AIDS, and yet annual spending on combating HIV/AIDS in developing countries has grown from an annual $200 million a decade ago to over $8 billion last year.

The meeting reviews on-going partnerships between the GHI members, with senior executives from GlaxoSmithkline, Elli Lilly and Reliance Industries describing some really amazing initiatives on the ground. But William Roedy from MTV International frames the challenge, “I used to say that saving one person’s life makes a difference and so makes it all worthwhile…I do not see things that way anymore, we can save millions of lives, and we have to, we must not accept less”. There is an aura of profoundly concerned excitement, a sense of the new, innovation, experimentation. Risking accusations of party-pooping, I pop the question, “this is all amazing, but more and new is not the same as sustainable scale – what is the mid and long-term game plan, when the excitement is over and the innovators have packed their bags and moved on”. After all, Richard Feachum of the Global Fund to fight AIDs, TB and Malaria argues that $10 billion dollars is annually needed to provide life-saving drugs to those in developing countries who cannot afford them. Bono’s ‘Red’ initiative will help in mobilizing some resources, but we have repeatedly seen over generations of development initiatives that accountability counts in delivering not only legitimacy but effectiveness over the long haul. I move into gear on my adopted topic, “how will these partnerships be held to account for how they use billions of public let alone private dollars, and for their declared stewardship roles and aims in health, but also in education and many other fields”. My comments, rightly or wrongly, are hardly surprising given that AccountAbility is deeply invested in our work on ‘partnership governance and accountability’, what we see as the future’s prime accountability arena in pursuit of international development.

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