From years as an investor, I have learned that creating value is dependent on identifying tipping points — specific moments when a business or industry can significantly change its performance or make decisions that will impact its value. The goal is spotting these moments and investing smartly to drive significant returns.
Philanthropy is no different. Too much philanthropic money goes to pet projects or the newest trends. This can be helpful, but it is not going to change the world — and that is what we need to do. As the world faces existential challenges, philanthropists have a duty to use our wealth to help as many as possible, to strive for more value from our grantmaking and focus on greater scale. We have to spot that moment of change, putting our funding and our trust into partners who can meet that moment . If we can do that, we can unlock the power of innovation and ensure resources and solutions are accessible to the millions of people who need them the most.
This year is a tipping point. The link between health systems, politics and economies has been clearly demonstrated in recent years. COVID-19 has cost over $10 trillion and counting. We are now witnessing even more devasation, with the consequences of the war in Ukraine and climate change creating a global food and cost-of-living crisis that will disproportionately impact low- and middle-income countries. Meanwhile, public expenditure on health and education is being squeezed as many countries service debts in an era of higher interest rates . If we fail to step up now, at the most difficult times, the damage later will only be greater, harder to correct, and cost far more to undo.
But the good news is that we already have many of the right solutions and the right partnerships. We just need to step up and support them.
Right now, one of our strongest partners, the Global Fund, is in the process of raising $18 billion with a goal of saving 20 million lives over the next three years, making it possible for innovations in the treatment and prevention of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and COVID-19 to reach those that need them most. That is the kind of scale that changes the world. Global Fund has a track record of deploying well-governed public-private partnerships within its country-led approach to scale proven innovations. So far, during the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, currently underway, the fund has secured major commitments from the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), the Skoll Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Abbott Fund, among many others .
An example of the Global Fund’s impact has been in HIV self-testing, where a tipping point is finally happening. We have learned that when you move HIV testing away from clinics or hospitals to pharmacies, drugstores or door-to-door delivery, it reaches many who have never tested before and reduces pressure on stretched health systems. It gives people the ability to test when they want, where they want and how they want.
In 2019, CIFF and the Global Fund launched a $25 million Catalytic Fund to scale access to self-tests in countries where millions still live without knowing their HIV status. Last week, CIFF committed an additional $33 million to the fund. This mechanism has fueled remarkable progress in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of those with undiagnosed HIV live. In five of Africa’s poorest countries, the distribution of self-tests has grown from a few thousand units in 2019 to over 3 million in 2021.
This kind of rapid progress is difficult. Equal access to life-saving products is, tragically, not a given around the world. Catalytic investments at the right time, with organizations like the Global Fund, can change this, increasing the impact of philanthropic funds and saving millions of lives.
We need to act now. Philanthropists often talk about legacy, but what’s far more important is action today. The last two years have shown us how much is at stake. If the pandemic hasn’t made the case for acting fast and at scale through public-private partnership, then I don’t know what else — or what worse — we are waiting for.
Chris Hohn is founder and board chair of the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and managing partner and portfolio manager of London-based hedge fund, the Children’s Investment Fund (TCI).