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Health philanthropy: differentiation, transparency, collaboration

Health philanthropy: differentiation, transparency, collaboration

This year’s BNP Paribas Philanthropy Index reported health as the cause of choice for global philanthropy.
The global health sector is certainly in need of both funds and champions. Under the current health regime, medical advancements and research benefit the world’s wealthiest 20 per cent, while the world’s poorest shoulder 80 per cent of the global disease burden. Of the 1,223 new medicines developed between 1975 and 1997, only 13 – a mere 1.06 per cent – were designed to treat tropical disease.
Health is one of the few things in which we all have a stake; it is one of the few things that binds us, irrespective of who we are and where we live. An individual’s experience of health can be positive, it can be devastating, but it is always highly emotive and very personal. It is this personal connection that drives the world’s philanthropists towards health causes.
While clearly popular, philanthropy in health is by no means straightforward. From choosing your cause to communicating your support, it is a crowded space, with many potential pitfalls to navigate.
Health causes are growing in number and complexity, with diverse patient demographics and needs, and an array of approaches, models and systems in action.
The global context is also becoming increasingly fraught. Not only are nations faced with ageing and growing populations, in ever urban environments, they must also now address the growing dual disease burden. This means fighting infectious diseases like malaria, TB and leprosy, while at the same time tackling non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
It is for these reasons that many of the world’s philanthropists are drawn to health – the need is urgent and diverse, and the opportunity to catalyse real change is significant. This also makes for a challenging communications environment.
We are now seeing a shift in how global actors are operating in the development world. Business principles are being applied more and more, with organisations refining their approach to the allocation of funds, and the measurement of success.
While this new way of working might engender a more professional or transparent approach to philanthropy, it will inevitably lead to difficult decisions. When do you walk away from a project? Why do you focus on one devastating disease and not another? In health, the stakes are high and so are the reputational risks.
Differentiation, transparency and collaboration are therefore essential to any successful communications approach.
Differentiation:
Given the number philanthropic organisations and foundations working in the health space, it is vital that you set yourself apart, and therefore justify your engagement. What are you doing that’s different to everyone else? Where are you adding value? This might be in the way that you work, how you choose your partners or how you measure success.
Transparency:
When it comes to global giving, accusations of conflicts of interest and questionable motives are to be anticipated. This is particularly true in health, presenting a constant comms challenge for organisations affiliated with private food, pharmaceutical and medical companies. You need to be prepared to answer difficult questions. Why have you chosen to prioritise a certain disease area or healthcare model? Why are you working in one country and not another? Evidence is paramount.
Collaboration:
Understanding the local and regional health context is vital; so too is engaging with local actors. Working and communicating alongside local governments, councils, public and private organisations allows you to tell a more vivid and compelling story. But above all, it will secure a strong and sustainable future for the projects you invest in.
Katie works in Portland’s health team, supporting clients across the sector, including the Novartis Foundation.

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