Three things we’ve learnt – and one thing we haven’t – by trying to create one list of election hustings

I’ve been working with the good folks at Democracy Club, and particularly James Baster of Open Tech Calendar, to crowdsource a list of hustings events for the general election. Here’s what we’ve found so far… Continue reading Three things we’ve learnt – and one thing we haven’t – by trying to create one list of election hustings

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Imagining an Open United Nations platform

Lisez cet article en français!

The ‘Open’ movement is in full force. There are now projects for Open Governments, Open Budgets, Open Charities, and even Open Corporates.

But, as yet, there are no Open International Organisations. No Open IMF, no Open World Bank, no Open World Trade Organization.  Continue reading Imagining an Open United Nations platform

Reimagining global democracy: from world parliament to global digital deliberation and participation

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong

I recently completed my main research paper for the MA Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

It’s published in full below, but I wanted to provide a quick summary for anyone interested. It features all your favourite digital public participation projects, but tries to set these in the context of global governance, as an answer to the problems of the ‘global democratic deficit.’ Continue reading Reimagining global democracy: from world parliament to global digital deliberation and participation

The Magic of King Bill: the global power of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

My term paper for my global health governance course looks at the power of the Gates Foundation. ‘King Bill’ because Gates is the most powerful man in global health and is accountable to nobody but himself. ‘Magic’ because it focuses on breakthrough ‘magic bullet’ technical solutions.

As global philanthropic funds rise, see, e.g. the Billionaire’s Giving Club, understanding the power of organisations like Gates’ becomes increasingly important for maintaining an accurate picture of global governance.

The argument goes like this:  Continue reading The Magic of King Bill: the global power of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Review of ‘Inside Fortress Bill’ on BBC Radio 4

The point about global governance is that it ain’t a government. It’s just a jumble of people, organisations and states doing things that constitute governance. This includes very rich people essentially providing global public goods like healthcare. The Gates Foundation is a great example of this – in the absence of sufficient WHO/UN spending on health provision, the foundation steps up, with vastly larger budgets. But what does this mean for the private-public divide? Who’s accountable to who? Should global health governance really be set by the whims of a very very wealthy couple?

This radio programme (available until 10 January) was billed as a documentary in which “Katie Derham takes a ‘warts and all’ look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and examines the immense political power and global influence that it now wields.”

Except she didn’t really. She gathered a few critiques (relying heavily on Laurie Garrett of the Council for Foreign Relations) and put some of them to senior staff at the foundation.

They responded as you’d expect: acknowledging that improvements could be made, yet not dealing with the real issue about private foundations – they’re unaccountable to the people.

As the description of the programme put it (which was far more interesting and cutting than the actual interviews): 

“[Gates’ philanthropy] is a sharp contrast with his former persona of ruthless businessman flaunting competition law, buying off rivals and pursuing his goals with a vengeance. Critics believe his market-led philosophies can distort the picture, allowing Governments to be let off the hook, causing a brain drain in countries where they are backing aid, and the way that funds are distributed seems to be at the whim of the co-chairs who are beyond any form of accountability.”

A few points of interest from the programme below.

On the foundation…

  • the money is, of course, staggering: Gates has given $26.1bn, Buffett $36bn. 
  • the foundation sees itself as a catalyst – leveraging its funds by partnering with governments, corporations (which led it to Monsanto, upsetting many)…
  • …and it leverages Bill, too. His media value brings attention to stories otherwise untold. 
  • it places a strong focus on innovation and entrepreneurship (as befits its $500m campus, which the presenter shrugged off as ‘Bill’s own money’ – except that the foundation is Bill’s own money too, so that distinction doesn’t make sense)
  • and it places a high focus on tech solutions, such as spending on vaccine research that wouldn’t come from big pharma (e.g. leprosy, TB)
  • as the CEO put it: “we believe in capitalism as an effective approach to allocating resources in a society”

But…

  • Medecins Sans Frontieres choose not to accept funding from the foundation; a ‘strategic decision to keep some form of independence’ and they had ‘concerns about engagement of private sector and resulting conflicts of interest’ (MSF spokeswoman)
  • a majority of funding for global health programmes comes from the foundation, which leads to tremendous vulnerability for associated programmes and fields (Garrett)
  • what matters in global health is is increasingly decided by a small group of Americans in Seattle (Garrett). Ultimately the foundation answers to Bill and Melinda Gates and Bill Gates Snr.
  • “previously you trusted governments to do development, but now things have completely changed” (spokesman of a charity funded by GF) – has it?
  • ‘it shares very little substantive info on what it’s doing and how it’s work is going’ (GiveWell spokesman)

So…

  • there is a ‘responsibility for all of us to hold them to account; for us to help them succeed and stop them doing crazy things that billionnaires sometimes do’ (Matthew Bishop of The Economist and author of Philanthrocapitalism)
  • at least Bill Gates is spending, but perhaps he needs competition from another foundation – perhaps a Larry Ellison or a Steve Jobs Foundation might have done things differently (Matthew Bishop)