Weekly Roundup: Fewer hungry people, a lot more patents and a spotlight on the whiteness of NGOs
A bit of good news floated across the news wires this week: The number of hungry people in the world has dropped dramatically.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an impressive 72 countries out of 129 have achieved the Millennium Development target of halving the number of “chronically undernourished.” There are still 795 million hungry people on the planet – or about one person out of every nine – but that’s 216 million fewer than in 1990-92. (When you consider that the world’s population has grown by 1.9 billion since 1990, it makes the shrinking hunger figure all the more impressive.)
The FAO listed three factors in the improvement: more efficient agriculture, especially among small farmers; “inclusive” economic growth; and “the expansion of social protection – often cash transfers to vulnerable households, but also food vouchers, health insurance or school meal programs, perhaps linked to guaranteed procurement contracts with local farmers.”
All are factors which can be expanded upon in the future, giving reason to believe FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva when he says, “The near-achievement of the MDG hunger targets shows us that we can indeed eliminate the scourge of hunger in our lifetime.”
Considering the drop in hunger, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that as a globe, we never been more inventive, according to Reuters – and the life sciences industry is overtaking the tech sector as the driver of that innovation.
The number of global patents increased by 3.3 percent, representing 2.15 million inventions, in 2014. That’s a slowdown compared to 20 percent in 2012 and 17.7 percent in 2013, but the sectors showing increases in 2014 were encouraging to those involved in global health – 12 percent in pharmaceuticals and 7 percent in biotechnology.
The 2015 State of Innovation report by Reuters says, “Not only has there been a surge in biotech innovation related to drug treatments for cancer, but biotech innovation also has an effect on other areas, like pharmaceuticals and food/beverage/tobacco compositions, all areas which saw a jump in year-over-year innovation activity.”
Jared Keller analyzed the report for Pacific Standard Magazine: “Innovations in information technology and telecommunications in the past decade have yielded inventions for both consumers (the smartphone) and businesses (cloud computing and other forms of data management). But a renewed focus on the life sciences is, frankly, a more morally appropriate allocation of resources, especially given the crises the world faces in the coming years.”
High hopes, impossible expectations
It seems that everyone, including the World Health Organization itself, is beating up WHO for its delayed response to the Ebola crisis.
On one hand, the bashing makes sense, because WHO is the organization best positioned to do something about diseases like Ebola.
On the other hand, however, there’s the reality that WHO doesn’t have the resources it needs to do its job.
For instance, delegates from 180 countries at the World Health Assembly this week OK’d a special $100 million “war chest” for WHO to battle future emergencies. To put this relative pittance of $100 million in perspective, consider that the world spends more than $3 trillion on health services every year, according to Transparency International.
It’s not like WHO is otherwise rolling in dough. The organization’s most recent two-year budget, after cuts, was roughly $4 billion, compared to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s single-year, 2013 budget of $6 billion. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2013 gave more to WHO than any single country.
The war chest is to come from “flexible voluntary contributions.” High hopes from an organization for which the world has impossible expectations.
Who is Best Equipped to Change the World?
Is it racist, tone deaf or inevitable that most NGOs doing work in the developing world are headquartered in the West and led by white males?
It’s a question Fairouz El Tom tackled in response to philanthropic consulting firm Global Geneva’s annual ranking of the top NGOs in the world.
Writing in a post picked up by Nonprofit Quarterly, El Tom points out that while 78 percent of the activities of the ranked NGOs take place in the developing world, 64 percent of them have headquarters in the West. “This once again sends signals about who has value and expertise,” he said, “and reinforces the fallacy that citizens of Western countries are best equipped to change the world.”
Even more eyebrow-raising: According to Global Geneva, only 5 percent of the 500 listed NGOs are headquartered in Africa, and only 4 percent of CEOs are of African descent, but 33 percent of the NGOs’ activity takes place in that region. “People of African descent are the only group in which there are fewer male than female CEOs,” El Wood points out. “This implies an institutional bias against black men.”
Does it? Should the top brass at an NGO reflect the people and causes it’s trying to serve? El Tom makes his position clear: “NGO appeals for public support and public money rely heavily and distinctively on their claim to moral authority. Given this, it is entirely reasonable to expect NGOs to demonstrate their institutional integrity, including accountability to those they claim to serve.”
It’s certainly a discussion worth having. And it comes at an interesting time, especially in the U.S., which has seen a nationwide debate about racism in the justice system linked to a lack of diversity in law enforcement.
Feel free to make your feelings known in the comments section below.
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Kyle Poplin is the editor of NextBillion Health Care.