Corporate donors, government donors: who encourages whom?

Besides the many individual viewers who contributed to American Idol’s second annual “Idol Gives Back” on April 9th, there were several large donors in the mix. The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, made a pledge that the British Government will contribute an extra 20 million ITNs toward the estimated 120 million needed globally. This was covered widely in online. At the same time at least eight corporate partners made their pledges. In particular, the ExxonMobil Foundation contributed $10 million.

Brown was quoted as saying, “And I’m challenging the rest of the world – governments, business and anyone else who wants to end this killer disease – to join us in this effort by donating money for nets.” This brings up the interesting issue of the interplay between government and corporate donors and who stimulates whom to do more for health and development efforts.

On Wednesday before the American Idol show APCO Worldwide organized a conference call with Dr Stephen Phillips, ExxonMobil’s Medical Director, and a few people who are working on malaria advocacy and blogs. Dr. Phillips was asked about the role one corporation might play in setting the lead in donating to malaria and encourage others to come on board. He responded more broadly and said that in fact governments, especially the G8 countries, watch what corporations donate and in turn corporations watch the development funding interests of governments.

For example, both the US President’s Malaria Initiative and ExxonMobil are heavily invested in fighting malaria in Angola. PMI intended to work in places where other had shown a commitment and ExxonMobil wanted to work where it could make a valuable addition to others efforts. It may be a chicken and egg situation, but clearly there is synergy happening.

Corporate donors and other philanthropic foundations are often able to use their funds in more innovative ways, testing new approaches and working with a wider variety of civil society groups. Corporations may also be able to engage in advocacy in ways that donor governments might not. So regardless of who gives first, corporate donors need to continue to set an example in the fight against malaria. Otherwise, as The Economist has worried, malaria’s moment, not only to grab the spotlight, but gather enough momentum and funding to make a difference, might pass unnoticed.

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