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Rethinking Humanitarianism | Can Global Public Investment replace aid financing as we know it?

‘On the one hand, we need tons more international public money. On the other hand, it can't be aid.’

Jonathan Glennie and Solange Baptiste on the Rethinking Humanitarianism podcast

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and a revived racial justice movement around the world, more radical proposals for how to restructure global governance have been gaining traction in ways that seemed impossible just a few years ago. 

One of those proposals is Global Public Investment – or GPI – and it boils down to three principles: All contribute, all decide, all benefit. 

Once laughed off as a pie-in-the-sky idea, GPI is increasingly seen as a plausible paradigm shift for a traditional aid system beholden to the whims of wealthy countries and stuck in a failing donor-recipient binary.

If successfully implemented, proponents argue, GPI would be a more democratic financing system for global public goods – better capable of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, tackling the climate crisis, and addressing the pandemics of the future.

But what is GPI really? Is it politically feasible? And what would it take to implement it?

In this episode of Rethinking Humanitarianism, host Heba Aly sits down with two people working to make GPI “technically sound” and “politically attractive”: Solange Baptiste, executive director of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC), and Jonathan Glennie, co-founder of the Global Nation think tank and author of “The Future of Aid: Global Public Investment”.

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TRANSCRIPT | Can Global Public Investment replace aid financing as we know it?

Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director: “We have a problem in the global financial architecture as well. There is need to reform aid, to more fully reflect solidarity over charity. There is a growing conversation on Global Public Investment.”

Solange Baptiste, ITPC Director: I mean, I think I'm coming from a place of frustration and GPI provides some hope if I have to be brutally honest. Communities, civil society [are] just absolutely frustrated. The system does not work for us. The system is designed very well for those who have power to retain their power. So, I'm not about fixing the system. I think we need to burn it all down and build something that works for communities.

Heba Aly

Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the revived racial justice movement around the world, more radical proposals for how to restructure global governance have gained traction in a way that seemed impossible just a few years before.

One of those proposals is Global Public Investment – or GPI.

It’s an idea that, if successful, would transform the aid debate and represent a paradigm shift in global financing for public goods, and in turn, for the pervasiveness of global inequalities.

And it can be boiled down to just 3 principles that seem almost too ideal to be possible in today’s world – All contribute, all decide, all benefit. Essentially, aid would no longer be at the whim of wealthy countries.

So what is GPI? Is it politically possible? And if so, how could it change aid financing as we know it?

I’m Heba Aly and this is Rethinking Humanitarianism.

If you’re following this season of the podcast, you know that we’re focusing on reimagining global governance.

But whether we’re talking about the UN, decolonising aid, reparations, climate financing, you name it, yhere’s often one common denominator. Money.

Those who have it and the power it gives them over those who need it, and the seemingly never ending struggle to raise more and more money for crises that never seem to dissipate.

One idea hopes to end this cycle. It’s called Global Public Investment, and it’s been gaining steam in recent years. It’s a proposal for an entirely new international public financing system capable of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the many pandemics likely to come, and tackling the climate crisis.

We’re joined today by two people working to make GPI “technically sound” and “politically attractive” — as they say.

Solange Baptiste is the Executive Director of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition – a global network of people living with HIV and their allies advocating for fair access to HIV treatment.

She joins us from Johannesburg, South Africa. Solange, welcome to the show.

Solange Baptiste

Thank you very much.

Heba Aly

Jonathan Glennie wrote the book on Global Public Investment – literally and figuratively. It’s called the “The Future of Aid: Global Public Investment” published in 2020. Jonathan is currently the co-founder of Global Nation, a think tank promoting an internationalist global future. Before that he spent many years running international development projects for NGOs.

He joins us from Barranquilla, in Colombia. Welcome to the podcast, Jonathan.

Jonathan Glennie

Thank you very much Heba.

Heba Aly

So Jonathan, I wanted to start with you, because you've been involved in this idea from the very beginning. Can you describe to us in a nutshell, what Global Public Investment is exactly?

Jonathan Glennie

In your introduction, when you said, it's become an idea that's more or more being taken seriously, in a way, and I think that's true. I mean, a lot of us have been working on this or something like this for a long time. The roots of this idea can be found in, you know, development critiques of the 70s and 80s. And until quite recently, I would say when I would present this and others would present this, it was treated with kind of some quiet respect are often the kind of sniggers in the background, because it felt so unlikely. And yet COVID came along, and it feels now that it's not just a critique of the current system, but actually a blueprint that could work. And fundamentally, the kind of contradiction it's trying to face is, we need tons more money to respond to our global challenges – the SDGs, global public goods, development challenges, humanitarian challenges. We need tons more public money. Private money simply won't, won't do the job in a way that's needed, and we found that in the last 10 years. Where's that money going to come from? We know that it can't continue to be aid, because, and also you alluded to this in your introduction, there are so many critiques of aid, we need to decolonize aid, we can't go on with the same kind of 1960s approach. So, on the one hand, we need tons more international public money. On the other hand, it can't be aid. So what's it going to be? And so we need to have something and Global Public Investment is simply the best option at the moment. And also, I think one thing that really makes it stand out, it's something that we are co-creating. It's not just a couple of people in a think tank, coming up with a brilliant idea. We've launched our Global Public Investment Network in New York last month, and we spent a lot of time talking with organizations and experts from around the world to build this thing. And it's still in very much under construction, but I think it's legitimate in that sense, in a way that a lot of the other ideas are much more top-down.

Heba Aly

Solange, Jonathan mentioned that at the beginning when he talked about this idea, people laughed at it. As I understand it, so did you?

Solange Baptiste

Yeah, I mean, I have said this out loud before. I think I think at first saw Jonathan or met Jonathan through Zoom in a meeting in Amsterdam of the Global Fund Advocates Network [in] 2016 or 2015, I'm not quite sure which year, and he was talking about these ideas about Global Public Investment and “All contributing, all deciding, and all benefiting”. And I literally laughed out loud, because I was like, “This guy is crazy”. Like, it's great, but it's never going to work. How are you going to see that in reality. But I do, I do think he has converted me now.

Heba Aly

So what is the idea and a line to you, as you now have come to understand it?

Solange Baptiste

Yeah, so I think for me, it was really about figuring out what does this look like concretely? What was laughable in my mind when Jonathan kind of explained it was the incentives that are lacking in the system to get to this ideal. I may have said that we should burn things all down and then start again, and clearly that was just a, you know, provocative and really reflecting the frustration from a community perspective. But definitely trying to think, what is it concretely? How can we make this operational? What does that look like? Someone spoke about, you know, you have to deal with the patient, but also build the hospitals. So we need to figure out the immediate need and tweak what we have currently in the existing systems, but also have a vision for that future and then build towards that greater ideal where these principles are imbibed. So, you know, things like the Financial Intermediary Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness [and] Response (the FIF), CEPI [The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations] – all these have started to pick up the GPI principles, and they're out working that governance, their ideals, decision-making. So, I can see now how systems can be tweaked, but I still struggle – and this is why it's being co-created and co-designed – with how do you fix something that is still fundamentally wrong? Tweaking a bad paper still gets you a bad grade. You need to start all over again. So, I think that's where where I live, in between those two.

Heba Aly

But just walk us through, first, what those principles are. Jonathan, I mentioned “All contribute, all benefit” as a simplified version, but break that down for us a little bit more. What are the principles behind GPI?

Jonathan Glennie

Yeah, so, if you think about what's called traditional aid, you tend to have a donor, and you tend to have recipients. There are different versions of that, there's something called triangular cooperation now, which tries to break that down a bit. You've also got horizontal South-South cooperation, but even that tends to have a donor and a recipient. And so countries of the world are broken into these effectively two groups, or maybe three groups. And that is very, you know, 1990s, or before, because the Sustainable Development Goals themselves would have came forward and said we need goals for every country, it was the first time that we started to kind of break down these barriers. Now, in a sense, we need to maintain the responsibility on the richest countries in the world. But we also need to break down these barriers between some country that donors and some countries are recipients. And what Global Public Investment suggest is that all countries should contribute. Now, that sounds incredibly radical. Not just the upper middle income countries, China, Mexico, Brazil, its new president would continue to engage in international cooperation, but even the smallest countries in the world, the poorest countries, should put something in. Why? Because that's how you gain a seat at the table. And that's how you shift the psychology in the narrative from being a recipient, which over the long term can we really then denigrating to your own sense of leadership, and can also affect the way that governance happens to co-contributors. You're going to be a net recipient, you’re still gonna get a lot more back than you put in, of course, because you're a poorer country, but you are a co-contributor to responding to global challenges and you've got a seat the governance table. Now how that governance works out is going to be different for every different fund that's created, and it's going to be worked out by countries and civil society as this thing progresses. There'll be formulas, there will be commitments, and your work is mostly in humanitarian. That's not where I'm where I'm set, but I know that in the humanitarian world, there's always this huge problem of responding, responding, responding and try and going around with the with a hat for every new crisis and trying to get media attention on it.

Heba Aly

The begging bowl.

Jonathan Glennie

The begging bowl. It’s somewhat similar sometimes in development. But I guess in humanitarianism, it's more so. You know, we know we need a system, and attempts have been made to do that in the past. And the fact that sometimes they fail doesn't mean you stop trying. And in a sense, on the one hand, while we're trying to respond to the urgent, multi-layered crises of today, we're also trying to build a system that will stand humanity in good stead for the 21st century. I mean, you have to think somewhat long term, not just short term, despite the short term urgency of these crises. So all countries will contribute. In that way, they will all decide you can't get out of power, the biggest countries in the world will always bully the poorest countries in the world. I mean, I'm not, kind of, ridiculously idealistic in that sense, but you can set up institutions and norms and laws and statutes to somewhat mitigate power to empower. And that's not what we have at the moment. And then “all benefit”. And this is, again, quite a radical idea, really, that even the richest countries would benefit from this. But it's one of the most popular things when I've gone around the world and suggested this approach, it’s is really popular in the Global South. Not because they're desperate to send money to, you know, Berlin, but because it transforms the way that we think about our world. It's not just about some countries that desperately needy and others have the money and know-how to spread it across the world. It's “we're all in this together.” Some countries, obviously are more wealthy than others, but a lot of countries that aren't that, wealthy have great know-how to share, and that and that that kind of approach, I think is is very, very popular. You know, there's nothing new under the sun. A lot of this has been tried, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, in the past. But we think it's time for a consolidated effort to go forward strongly on this. And just, I guess, in reply to Solange’s concerns about how do you make this happen, and how do you overturn the system while also tweaking the system? Well, there is a gap in global public goods at the moment. There isn't a strong - there is the climate finance world – but apart from that, just look at the COVID response, there wasn't a clear way of funding that. So we know there's a gap in global public goods. So that's where Global Public Investment is going to focus its attention first, but gradually, over time, it will need to overtake the ODA system, which is the 1950s 1960s approach to development. And gradually, we will set up across the world a process of funding the things we care about as humans in a much more organized and sensible way. It's actually quite sensible, and quite an obvious way forward for an increasingly kind of communal world. If we don't do that the opposite is, is kind of slightly chaotic.

Heba Aly 10:04

You mentioned kind of a series of funds. So do you see it as, for each theme, topic, [or] crisis,you've got one fund. So you've got the COVID global goods fund, and then you've got the climate global goods fund, and then you've got the rising energy prices global goods fund or – how does it work in your vision as initial as that might be?

Jonathan Glennie 10:27

Well, I think it's inevitable that you have a bunch of different funds as part of the response to our global challenges. I mean, I can't – but there's millions of people working on this now, so maybe other people have other ideas – but I can't see a way how you have everything collated into one fund or just all bilateral. So inevitably, you're going to end up with a bunch of multilateral ways of responding to particular challenges. We're doing advocacy, as Solange mentioned, on the new World Bank [Financial Intermediary] Fund on Pandemic [Prevention], Preparednes and Response. We're doing advocacy on a bunch of other funds, including the Global Fund to try and improve it. That's one aspect of our work. But also, we do need eventually to have a global system of GPI, because it's the only way you can guarantee to the poorer countries that are putting money in that they're going to get more more back, you need to have, you need to have something set up at the global level. For that a bit like ODA is organized in Paris by the OECD, you're going to have to have GPI organized in New York or Geneva or somewhere in the Global South to manage GPI. You can't enforce it, but you can have some norms.

Heba Aly 11:37

You've had this Expert Working Group that both of you were members of that was trying to organize or coordinate these efforts. And that's now being transformed into the network that you mentioned, just being launched. So I understand that there's some kind of Secretariat in the making that would support these efforts. But before we talk a bit more about how it's structured, I just want to clarify that when, last year, the Secretary-General of the UN came out with this “Common Agenda” that seemed to propose more or less this idea that certain public goods have long been acknowledged as being global in nature and can't be adequately provided by any one state acting alone, because they concern the welfare of humanity. And there's a whole section in this report about the future of multilateralism and aid on protecting the global commons. Is that basically the GPI idea? Is he tapping into that idea, or is this something different?

Solange Baptiste 12:34

Well, I think he is tapping into that idea. I remember when that came out. But I'm not sure if it was fully fleshed out. But I do think it's the genesis of what we are really unpacking now. So I think that's directionally the right the right way, the right way. But it's still within the UN system, which I still think is problematic. So how do you tweak a system that has been built on this very colonial paradigm where definitely that power structure is still there – rich countries, poor countries, Security Council, depending on what the issue of the day is, you'll see where the power is, where the lines are. How do you tweak that to say now that, you know, Bangladesh has as much power as the United States at the at the table? How's that going to work? I think we still have to keep pressing.

Heba Aly 13:25

What do you see as the governance, then, if it's not the UN?

Solange Baptiste 13:29

Oh, yeah, so I don't have the answers for that. To be honest, I mean, this goes back to this “all contribute, all decide, all benefit”. And I did want to pick back up on something that Jonathan had said. From our work at ITPC [International Treatment Preparedness Coalition], we work, you know, primarily with communities on health issues. And so just tapping into what does “all contribute” mean, and often that's seen as very much money. I want to, from the community perspective, break that . What communities can contribute is not often necessarily resources in the terms of money, but the ability to bring data, to bring insight, to bring lived experiences. So whether that's from a climate perspective, or a health perspective, you see that many of the solutions that we have had for COVID are really built on the architecture of the HIV system within the health space. And so, the frontlines are often communities. And so I think we need to make sure that when we try to figure out how do “all contribute”, it's not a government sitting in the UN saying this is how much money we'll put in, but how do communities contribute? What is science? What is is valid data? And then in terms of “all benefiting”, and” all deciding”, it's coming up to your question around governance, I think this is truly a co-design question. And when we say co-design, co-create, that's a big chunk of the work that we did as the Expert Working Group. We didn't come up with an idea and say this is what we want, can we go ahead and have these regional consultations and validate our own ideas. It's truly a blank page of how is this going to work? Let's come together and build it as we go along. We have some things that we can tweak and say could look a little bit like this – so Global Fund has often been touted as a good example. Jonathan has referred to a few things in the climate space. But it's like tweaking, but what is this new thing, and how will we get there?

Heba Aly 15:30

Jonathan, I think you feel that the UN does have to be involved in the governance of GPI. So what's your take on this?

Jonathan Glennie 15:40

Like I said, you know, as more people come to this work, there will be more ideas. I mean, it's either the UN or it's something very, very similar to the UN that hasn't been put up yet. I mean, it needs to be countries working together. In the same way, as if you have a federal system in a country, take the US, you've got 50 states working together somewhat, and there is a financial system that they operate. A good analogy is the EU, or to some extent, also the African Union. The European Union is the best example. It's a bunch of countries that have come together. There's a huge amount of money that's moved around those countries every year in the form of what they call structural funds, and all countries contribute, the including the poorest countries. Romania is sat at the table every month in Brussels deciding how that money gets spent. Not as powerful as Germany, but it's there. And all countries receive. So Germany receives money from the Brussels accounts to spend to be spent on the things the EU care about, and like I said, all decide. So that's a kind of a club of countries which comes together to work this out. You know, there's some kind of club of countries, and what we have at the moment is the UN. I think, what Solange makes me think is that we're very keen on the role of civil society to remain part of this. So, I think the UN has a checkered history in terms of bringing civil society to the table, and I think the people that are currently involved in building the Global Public Investment proposal absolutely believe in the public bit, and the public bit, for me, that's always meant official government. But it's also a somewhat ambiguous term, isn't it? Because it also means general public, and how do you involve the civil society? State governments are not the only representation of democracy or, or people's opinions. It's complicated. But, for me, yeah, it’s under the UN system.

Heba Aly 17:46

A few episodes ago, we discussed exactly what an alternative to the UN could look like, and Tim Murithi was on talking about the notion of a World Parliament that would try to address some of the power dynamics currently at play in the UN. But as Solange is saying, to what extent would having the UN as the governing body of this – with all its faults and limitations, as we've seen in its current functioning – compromise the radical vision that you have for GPI?

Jonathan Glennie 18:24

You know, as Churchill famously said, “It’s the worst system except for all the others”. I mean, if there's a better way, I'm all up for it. I mean, what we've thought at the moment, and like Solange said, you know, in the Expert Working Group, we came up with proposals and ideas to be discussed, nothing more. And it's something like a group of countries representing other countries comes together to set the broad direction of GPI over the next three to five years. Say, you know, these are the crises that we have to work on. These are the SDGs, for instance, these are the top SDGs. This is what counts as GPI, a bit like what the OECD does for ODA, you know, kind of measures and analyzes what's being spent. You know, I don't think it's an enforcement role. I think there is some kind of expert body role. Countries have to respect it, so it probably has to be set up by countries, but if it's something somewhat outside – this interesting conversation, we're taking it into new ways – if it has to sit outside the UN in some way, promoted by the UN, but an expert body with civil society representation to somewhat monitor GPI, I mean, I don't think you end up with a perfect system here. You know, it's hard enough at the EU level, the African level, let alone, you know, 195 countries all coming together. We know it's going to be difficult.

Heba Aly 19:47

I was just gonna say, you know, you use the EU as a model, but, you know, many would argue the EU is quite dysfunctional. So is that really what you want to be? How can you make that an even bigger scale. How would you end up with anything that is ever manageable?

Jonathan Glennie 20:01

You know, all of our countries are mega dysfunction, as well. I mean, you know, I bet you can’t think of a single state, which kind of stands out as mega functional. There’s probably one or two, but most of them are all sorts of dysfunctional and all sorts of functional. And I think that the the EU is pretty functional in many ways, and they certainly the structural funds have have worked in the sense that they have been spent first in southern Europe, Spain, Italy, Greece, and now much more towards the east of Europe, of course. [That’s] billions of dollars a year, Euros being spent on bringing countries and this is crucial, by the way in terms of an analogy for Global Public Investment, not eradicating extreme poverty as if that's the be-all-and-end-all. It's important, but it's not the end. It's building countries up so that they are living there – they use the word convergence. Converging to a common standard living in that particular club. And we're just saying, let's expand the club. And yeah, of course,it could be, you know, mega mega difficult. The governance is going to be so, so hard. And I'm sure there will be all sorts of problems and Daily Mail will have a field day finding examples of where it doesn't work, but it it’ll work better than it does at the moment. Right. And, you know, as a kind of idealist, non-idealist, that's, that's good enough for me sometimes.

Heba Aly 21:12

I mean, that's just at the country level. As you've said, Solange, part of what would make this different is that co-creation with civil society aspect, and in fact, you call it the DNA of GPI. How do you do that, you know, co-create a public financial system at a global scale with at such a micro level of communities around the world?

Solange Baptiste 21:36

I agree. I mean, it definitely has to start from being a groundswell. I don't think that this thing top-down will work. I fully agree with Jonathan that it's at a country level, and I would then go to sub-national and then community level. I think we need to speak truth to ourselves. I think we need to make sure that we understand that governments aren't always proxies for their people. If you look at just like what happened in Brazil, I mean, you have such like marginal wins. That means you have a whole bunch of people that do not feel like this person represents them, and they go make decisions on behalf of that whole country. And then you have areas that are, you know, governed by non-state actors: you have military situations, and you're fully in the humanitarian space, so you know what I’m saying. So I tend to think about what this will look like. I struggle with the many little funds and I then I'm like, okay, maybe, and then we tweak this, and we can have those debates and conversations. But my mind tends to drift to the outcomes. Like, you know, Winnie [Byanyima] from UN AIDS had spoken before, and she said HIV will have a cure. I dream of a world where everyone will have insulin if you need it. I dream of a world where, you know, people can get health [care]. Where climate will the targets that we set, those things will actually be achieved, snd we see actual action instead of a bunch of plans, less talk and more action. So that's the world that I dream of. But the only way I think, to be honest, and I've been thinking about this, to get to that world, is with crisis. Crisis is our partner. If there is no crisis, then no one cares. And even COVID was not strong enough of a crisis. The gap between the pandemics is closing. So how we prepare for the next thing – we were scared when monkeypox came and then we also had a bunch of drama with that – but whatever the next big issue is, I think, is going to then shake us into thinking, “Oh, this is an actual full ecosystem and we all have to now come together and make a decision together.” Because there are no incentives, like money, in the system, and some geopolitics with trade. I think those things are played out. I think it's now to the point of extreme crisis to be our partner to get us all to see that we're all going to be affected by different things.

Heba Aly 24:05

But I don't see what a better crisis could have been than COVID, where everyone is affected and it's clear that everyone needs to work together to address the problem. And that resulted in the exact opposite of more competition, more, you know, people pricing each other out of the market countries within the European Union, which was meant to be working together, you know, competing against one another. So, in a moment in which people are more and more, or countries are more and more concerned about, you know, ensuring the future for their own people, does this work?

Solange Baptiste 24:39

So, if I put on my optimist hat and then Jonathan can can speak as the eternal optimist, we saw that there was a vaccine made. So where there is a will there is a way, and maybe we started to see relief too early and therefore we were able to retract into our own issues. I don't know what the nature of the next crisis will be, but it is coming. And we have, what is the term now, a polycrisis where it's a whole bunch of crises, which are actually now interrelated, do it's now bigger than the individual thematic area. So whatever that next thing will be, hopefully, it doesn't cause us to retract into self-interest, which is always the state of each state actor, and to hoarding, and to nationalism, and more tribalism, but into a space of “Oh, my goodness, we really cannot do without each other”, and these principles become more politically attractive and then technically feasible.

Heba Aly 25:36

I mean, if you look at – COVID is just such a good case study on a number of levels – but the fact that, you know, China was sending aid to the United States in the early days of the pandemic. We are already starting to see some of the countries that would have traditionally been considered richer, needing others. And I suppose that this change can't happen until the powerful countries feel that they need others.

Jonathan Glennie 26:05

I sometimes say about Global Public Investment, not only is it a kind of radical proposal for a new way of doing things, it's also just a better description of what's already happening. I mean, the idea that you have donors and recipients and that's how the world operates is only really the way that the traditional aid system based in system in Paris thinks about it.

Solange Baptiste

Superficial narrative.

Jonathan Glennie

Everyone's actually doing it. And in very, very different ways. When I was down in Australia, just before the COVID thing happened, Australia was receiving money from like, I think even the Solomon Islands tried to send Australia money because they'd had their wildfires. And Australia didn't accept it, because it felt like it was undignified, which is kind of, you know, makes the point. And actually, I was talking to some humanitarian people down there, I said “I don't really know that humanitarianidm”, but they were saying we can apply GPI to a regional humanitarian fund. So it's not like Australia and New Zealand, send money, and it helps Indonesia, South India, Solomon, Island, etc. It's all of us contribute some money, because even Australia needs our help. You know, there are different ways that you get changed in history, and I think definitely crisis is one. We always remember, don't we, kind of the onset of the neoliberal era came with the oil crisis. And these guys had developed the idea, and they were just waiting for the crisis. The crisis came, and boom – we've had 40 years of neoliberalism because they had the blueprint. And I think that the kind of internationalist among us have failed, because we're not ambitious enough, because we laugh at ourselves. And we let others laugh at us when we say actually, “what we need is a global system of international finance”, and we’re like “Oh come on”. And then what we actually do need is to at least have the blueprint. If we don't get there, yeah, I know that we might not fully get there, but if we don't get there, then we won't get there – but you don't not set out the plan and you wait for the crisis. But the other way you get change is also in stability, it has to be said. So the early part of this millennium, I don't know how you guys think about the kind of debt relief that happened and the increased aid that happened, [but[ the US tripled aid under George Bush, which is quite astonishing to remember. Sure, it was also the age of terrorism, if you want to put it like that, and that was one of the one of the reasons for doing that, but it was an it was an era in which these countries were growing. There was serious stability and growth in the Global North, and in that context, you get an element of, if I may use the word, generosity. You know, people are less concerned about looking after themselves. That's the opposite of where we are now. So maybe you need a bit of crisis, and then you need a bit of stability. I don't know. What could be more critical than than climate at the moment, and [yet] the British Prime Minister is not going because he's dealing with what he considers to be his crisis in the UK, and he doesn't want to send out various cultural signals I guess, as well, I don't know. But as a campaigner, all I know is you set out where you want to go, and you try and make the best of it in the short term, but you also have a vision for what's possible. No one thought the United Nations would be possible in the 30s, and yet, there you are in 1944 with one of the greatest symbols of international, you know, brotherhood and sisterhood. Sure, Heba, you're going to say is dysfunctional. It is dysfunctional, but it's better than what we had.

Heba Aly

Agreed. And I take the point. And I think part of the challenge in this sector is that everyone is constantly talking about what's not working, and nobody builds a vision of an alternative. And that's part of why we're dedicating this season to reimagining global governance in order to start putting some ideas on the table of what an alternative could look like. But I want to take the climate example, because you just mentioned it. We’re, as we speak, preparing to see COP 27 take place in Sharm el Sheikh. That is basically the biggest existential crisis, and one in which we are seeing a vast inequality and how financing is taking place. How would GPI change the way we address climate change?

Jonathan Glennie

In a sense, the climate finance narrative has actually been quite progressive. So it talks about the responsibilities being on the historic polluters. There are a number of funds that have tried to be bottom up, and the best example I can think of, for how the narrative is quite progressive is that India began to refuse international development aid a few years ago, on the ground that it was basically was patronizing. But it continued to receive climate finance, which actually was ODA, because the narrative is entirely different, because countries are sitting down at the table at these COPs and discussing them in a more horizontal way. Again, totally dysfunctional, as we know. The actual delivery has been weak, they're incredibly disjointed, especially between climate and development. And one of the things we're pushing is that you need to – and a lot of climate finance people are pushing – is that, you know, this separation of climate and development is really unhelpful. We need to bring it all together under “sustainable development”, that kind of thing. We need tons more money. I mean, we're not even in the right ballpark. This $100 billion [climate financing] pledge [for developing countries], even if it was coming forward, and even if it was public money, it's still hundreds of billions, possibly trillions, short of where we need to be. And we just talk about that. You know, it's what we find all the time and aid you know, and development. People say,” Oh, well we need $100 billion”, but that's only because that's what they reckon they can get. In reality, we need tons more than that to respond to the crisis, especially if we start talking about loss and damage, which is trying to rear its head in these talks. And then, and then finally, it's northern perspective dominant in the climate finance talks, and is has to be more southern perspective leading. So, Global Public Investment response to all of those “all contribute, all benefit, all decide”, and we hope that the new narrative of “we're all in this together”, which like I say, the climate world has kind of trailed and trialed, will be effective in raising money, more money, both in the North and in the South. And not only more money, but crucially better spent money because we know actually very little about how to spend aid money well. I’ve read most of the research on it, and it's, it's quite hard. It's just a pretty hard thing to do to spend money internationally pretty well. There's corruption, there's poor management, there are bad decisions. And the one thing we do know is that the more ownership and control you put in the hands of people who are meant to benefit, the intended beneficiaries at the local and community and country level, the more likely you are to spend that money well. And that's what was trying to happen in the aid world about 15 years ago, and it needs to happen much, much more at the moment, both in climate and more broadly in international development.

Heba Aly 33:23

But Solange, how would taking a Global Public Investment approach to this result in anything different than the current loss and damage discussion, which is basically resulting in stalemate?

Solange Baptiste 33:37

You know, that this climate vulnerable forum, where the vulnerable countries are there to discuss their issues from their perspective, I think it's like the most effected but the least responsible for the climate crisis. And they're coming together to kind of say, “Okay, how does this work for us? What is the change that we want to see trying to push the system”. But I don't think that the money is necessarily the issue, and maybe Jonathan's read all the articles and will disagree with me, but there there is money in the system. It's just that it's not a priority. And so it's coming back to this question of how do we make it a priority for everyone at the table? I think that the answer is with this artificial separation between climate issues, and development issues, and health issues, and then this money, that money? I think it's really now all one polycrisis. How do you separate our next pandemic or health issues from climate issues, even humanitarian issues, and just the stability of countries from climate issues? It's very difficult. And so I think when you put them all together, then you start to see the wider picture, and then maybe we can actually get to this funding gap that we're seeing. Everybody has to feel the pain. If you're not feeling the pain, you don't care, and there will always be a gap and that will not be a priority and the polluter countries will not pay. I think that's how it is right now.

Heba Aly

But I think you've just touched on exactly the challenge for GPI. And I agree – there is no system without challenges– but that it depends on the powerful wanting to collaborate. And if they're not feeling the pain, what incentivizes them to do this?

Solange Baptiste

Crisis. We need to be able to now state “remember what happened in COVID when you were receiving and you have this convenient narrative where you're still the superhero of the world?” Let's just come back to reality and speak truth to ourselves. And we need to end the campaigning for GPI explaining the actual problem, and kind of put countries in their perspective so that they understand that they were recipients of aid from another country that would have not been before.

Jonathan Glennie

It's worse than you think, Heba, because speaking to the people that set up the Global Fund about 20 years ago, I guess, who are, you know, a few of them are really, really part of the Global Public Investment Network and strongly believe this is the way forward. They say what we did then, we're finding it really hard to do similar things now, because we’re in this more kind of comeptitive era. So some of us, foolishly… Solange thinks I'm an eternal optimist. I think I used to be an eternal optimist, because I used to think in the early 2000s, generally speaking, we're moving in the right direction, because there was a lot of talk of ownership. I was at the heart of the aid effectiveness agenda, and this kind of feeling that the Global South was growing and that was a good thing. Of course, the flip side of that, is that is that China has massively grown, which is a good thing, but also has led to this kind of global competition. I'm not the eternal optimist anymore. Like things have changed a lot. The context is much worse than it was 10, 15 years ago, and countries are not as prepared as they were, wealthy countries and powerful countries, to kind of, as I used the word earlier, be generous with governance. It’s depressing to think that we can't do now the kind of quite progressive governance structure that we did then, and of course, GPI is asking for something even more. I mean, it's hard. It's really, really hard. There are rays of hope. I think the long game is good, the rise of the Global South, the narrative of decolonization is hard to turn back now. That kind of analysis is deeply ingrained, although it is at the heart of a cultural war that is being lost in some countries. It's just been won In Brazil, it's just kind of been won, at least at the presidential level, in the US. But I mean, these things, you know, could easily turn again. So how… I don't know.

Heba Aly

Well, where do you hear now? I mean, if this idea is gaining traction, and you're getting buy-in now from the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, from the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, from the head of France’s development agency… So it is picking up and you've spent years really trying to build a movement around this idea. Where do you go from here? What's the next step?

Jonathan Glennie 38:16

There's a lot of foundations interested in this. So the Clintons, Ford [Foundation] is backing us with some big bucks, Gates [Foundation] is backing us. And you know, we're just really in the beginning of this. And there are lots of also other movements. So if you look at the statements from, not the World Bank boss, but the IMF boss and others, they're saying, “yes, we do actually need to change the system”. And you've got [Barbados Prime Minister] Mia Mottley leading the charge in one area. You've got the campaign on multilateral development banks. There are people that are trying to build campaigns to not just respond in an aid way to our crises, but to actually change the systems at the same time. And the next step for GPI is to be a voice in those campaigns, to push for these particular principles that we think are not only the right ones, but also have gained legitimacy because of the way that we've worked over the last few years. And just to try and make the best advocacy campaign possible, both in terms of, you know, our ambition, what are we trying to achieve? But also recognizing the political constraints that you've you've discussed?

Solange Baptiste

Yeah, and what I would add is a call to everyone, who thinks that we’re either crazy or this might be a good idea, to have that conversation. It's really, go to globalpublicinvestment.net and join. A call to joining us would be important. And being able to be part of the co-creation process. Like, help us to co-design. The important thing is to find the right question often, so that we can tackle what the solutions may be. And so I think through the global consultations that we've had, we've gotten several questions. Now we need to put our heads together and think what this could truly look like, how to operationalize it at a regional, national, subnational, community, civil society, and obviously, at a global level as we move things forward.

Heba Aly

When you invite people to join you in that conversation, what does that look like? How do they actually engage? Is there a process?

Solange Baptiste

We're in the formative stages of a Secretariat, and building out what the network would look like. And then there are many advocacy campaigns and pathways and projects that we have, as Jonathan just explained. So really being able to come together with us to complement the work that's on the ground, that's on the way already, to be a voice in that system to be able to say, “this is how we think it should look like, here's what we can add to the project that's ongoing, we have an idea for something, let's go look for funding for that idea”. There's this advocacy opportunity coming down the road, can we convene filtrate that with this particular message? I think it's also really important for the average person, for communities that are affected by any of these intercolliding crises, to be able to know what the entry point is. Sometimes the terminology and the thing is so out there in the stratosphere, the average person doesn't know how to link to it. And I think that's part of the work that we have to do now in terms of communications.

Heba Aly 41:36

And maybe just one last question for you Solange, because you talked at the beginning about your frustration, and we heard that clip of you saying we should burn it all down. What is it about GPI, knowing the resistance you are going to face and how uncertain, as we've just discussed, the landscape is, hearing Jonathan say he's no longer an optimist or an idealist… What is it about this, that gives you hope?

Solange Baptiste

The FIF is a good example of a small win. The financial Intermediary Fund, where we were able to get two civil society seats that were voting seats in this governance of the fund. You know, there are still many problems with the FIF, where it’s being housed and the prioritisation and the decision-making. Sometimes, because we work in human rights as well, just holding the line is a win. Things are not getting worse, and we made sure that things didn't get worse, and we kept what the status quo was. Because we’re often having to kind of guard those policies that could quickly and easily dissipate, and then you have these human rights crises and violations happening. So I think GPI actually gives me hope, because you're able to now infuse these principles into things that are already existing, and, while doing that, be able to build the hospital, be able to build the bigger picture. If you have the blank page, how would we start? What's the visioning? It's not a binary decision that you burn it all down, or you actually tweak the paper or deal with the patient, whichever analogy we're going to use – we have to do both. The crises are coming and I think that will then kind of tweak our reaction in response to whatever is in front of us based on the colliding crises that are happening.

Heba Aly

I want to end on the same question we’ve been asking all of our guests this season. Reimagining global governance, or in this case reimaging an entirely new global public financing system, is overwhelming, right? We’re talking about a new world order, and that seems so large and so impossible to change. What do you see as one practical starting point?

Jonathan Glennie

So the great [economist] Mariana Mazzucato came to launch our Expert Working Group reports earlier this year. And one of the things she said, which surprised me, because I was expecting this kind of deep economic analysis, which, of course, she does, as well. But she said, you know, the most important thing here is story. We've got to tell a particular story. Because we're on so many fronts, we're losing that. On other fronts, we're winning. I don't think we should be too pessimistic about this. But once you're winning on story, on narrative, then things can flow from that and you can start to actually see concrete steps. So on one hand, it's just, it's just winning on the narrative and the story. It's possible, and it's the right thing to do. On the other hand, these funds that we're working on are concrete changes that we can see in the next couple of years, because clearly, the story thing is going to take a few years to play out. And then, in terms of the boring advocacy that we do, increase the amount of governments and civil society organizations, but especially governments and UN bodies, reflecting GPI either explicitly, or at least in the language and principles that they're talking about. And we're beginning to see that, and in 2023, that's what we're going to be focusing on.

Heba Aly

Well, it's a fascinating concept, and I will be very interested to watch as it unfolds. Solange Baptiste and Jonathan Glennie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Solange Baptiste

Thank you very much.

Jonathan Glennie

Thank you.

Heba Aly

That was Solange Baptiste, Executive Director of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition, and Jonathan Glennie, co-founder of Global Nation and Author of “The Future of Aid: Global Public Investment” They are both members of the Expert Working Group studying how to implement GPI.

If you’ve got thoughts on the Global Public Investment concept, write to us or send us a voicenote at [email protected] Do you think it’s feasible? What would it looks like? Are there examples in practice that you’ve seen that work or don’t work? We’d love to hear from you.

Next episode, we’ll be looking at how to reform climate financing, in particular, as COP 27 is about to kick off.

Until then, w’ll leave you with a few voices from an event about Global Public Investment on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this fall.

You’ll hear from Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS; Avinash Persaud, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister of Barbados on Investment; and GPI Steering Committee member, Alicia Yamin.

They discuss the limits and merits of existing aid financing systems, and the challenges that lie ahead for GPI.

This podcast is a production of The New Humanitarian.

This episode was produced and edited by Melissa Fundira

Original music by Whitney Patterson

I’m your host Heba Aly.

Thank you for listening to Rethinking Humanitarianism.

Winnie Byanyima: So in AIDS we learned that the neocolonial financing system was unjust and led to failures. How can I not call it a failure when 12 million people died, 12 million died of AIDS mainly in Africa when life-saving ARVs were already here being given to people in these countries? That's a failure. So when the Global Fund was created, it put governments in the Global South, and communities, ordinary citizens, as voting members of its board. That was a big change, a big step forward, so that decisions are not made for those people, but they are there to shape those decisions. It’s the bare minimum but we should expect more – a more decolonized management of resources. Unfortunately, the world is moving in the wrong direction. Now the G20 went and met somewhere and created what they call the Financial Intermediary Fund sitting in the World Bank. [It’s] basically a system where decisions are made according to who contributes the most so those who don't have money to contribute don't shape those decisions. How’s that a solution? It simply won't work. It’s a movement in the wrong directions. That's why I'm here to support Global Public Investment as an idea.

Avinash Persaud: If you look at Poland today, Poland today borrows at one percent over the German borrowing rate. Look at South Africa. South Africa borrows at about nine percent over the German borrowing rate. And why is that? Is that because South Africa has these terrible economic fundamentals? These challenging politics? In fact, the fundamentals of South Africa, in both its economic and social and political, are similar to Poland. The difference is that Poland has another balance sheet it can rely upon. It's not the Polish balance sheet that determines Polish interest rates. It's a fact it can rely upon a European balance sheet. It can rely upon an international balance sheet. If we want to fund the trillions of dollars we need for global public goods, we need an international balance sheet. The local balance sheets can't do it.

Alicia Ely Yamin: We know that GPI alone is not enough. The rigged rules of the game need to change. If the IMF decided that it wanted to sign up to the GPI Network right away, that would be the kiss of death, right? This is an iterative process that we are building in conjunction with a lot of other social movements and social action. We absolutely know that debt needs to be tackled, tax justice needs to be tackled, intellectual property regimes need to be tackled. Going a little bit to the former question of how much public investment went into the development of the vaccines and how the profits were then privatized scandalously. So we know that this is not the answer. It's not a Magic Bullet. And we also are very aware that there's a kind of Lorenz effect, a butterfly effect, where you have to trigger changes in the short term that lead to much bigger changes without reproducing the same kind of colonialist logics.

Winnie Byanyima: And by the way, we are not dreamers. Everything begins with an idea. You push it, you push it, you build a movement, it becomes a reality. So I'm here because I believe that it's an idea that has reached its time.

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