– Joe Cerrell is Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, European Office. The opinions expressed are his own. –
It used to be that sometime in the fall, around October, advocates for international development would gather and talk about the year ahead, including big events in the cultural and political calendar that could be used to draw attention to the plight of the world’s poorest. Inevitably, there would be talk of the G8 and sometimes the World Cup, and another event – the World Economic Forum – would also feature as an important opportunity to get development onto the global agenda.
What greater coup than to crash this gathering in Davos and try to get the titans of business, government and industry to pay attention to Africa. Development activists like me used to talk about the necessity of engaging “non-traditional allies” on our causes, and there was no better place than the WEF to recruit these new voices.
Of course we had in Bill Gates one of the great non-traditional champions on our side, and in 2000, when he came to Davos to announce the creation of an entity called GAVI, it was for most the first time they heard the king of software talk about the opportunity to save millions of lives through routine immunization. It was a novelty of sorts. One writer said Bill brought “unique credibility” to the issue of international health and a “business-minded” sense of how to tackle big challenges in the developing world.
Five years later, in what some consider a high-water mark for development hijacking the economic agenda in Davos, Prime Minister Tony Blair used his time at the Forum almost exclusively to garner support for his pro-Africa G8 agenda, racing from one meeting room to the next prodding leaders of the richest nations to make major new financial commitments to the continent. That year he, along with Bill Gates, convened a memorable panel that included Bono, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and the Nigerian head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo.