GBCHealth sat down with Ambassador John Simon, the newly appointed Vice-Chair of the Global Fund, to learn more about his priorities and to discuss how the Fund can continue to lead the development community on innovative health financing.
Why do you think global health remains one of the few areas to continually receive bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress?
Success begets support. The US government efforts in global health, supplemented by those of other government donors, corporate, foundation, and individual philanthropists, and implementing partners on the ground, have been among the most successful in development history. Millions of lives have been saved, diseases that have plagued the developing world for decades and centuries are on their backfoot, and we can realistically talk about an AIDS free, Malaria free and TB free generation in the not too distant future. Of course, to get there we will need to work even harder.
What does the U.S. see as its role at the Global Fund?
I can only speak from my past experience in the US government as I do not represent the USG in my current role, but when I was working in the White House on global health issues, we took great pride in the role the United States played in founding the Global Fund, were committed to providing our historical one third share of the total funding, and recognized the Global Fund as one of the most innovative development mechanisms, in that it brings parties across the spectrum – donors, those battling the diseases, the private sector, NGOs, communities and others – together to stand shoulder to shoulder against the ravages of the three diseases. Throughout its history, The US has been a key driver of the Global Fund’s focus on results/measurement of those results, and has consistently been an active voice on the Board.
“Innovative Financing” has received a lot of attention, what does innovative financing mean to you and how can it best be applied in the health space?
Innovative financing is about leverage – using a small amount of resources to mobilize several times more. Innovative Financing mechanisms can include Public Private Partnerships that leverage private sector funding, North-South partnerships that mobilize more domestic resources, and financial instruments that capitalize on the vast resources available in the private sector. In each case, it starts with effective implementation on the ground, which creates the confidence and trust for corporations, investors, and local funders to augment and scale what grantors like the Global Fund are already doing.
Are there particular risks to innovative financial partnerships in the health space? How can these risks be mitigated?
There are always risks when you try something new. There are those who worry that new financing parties, particularly private parties, could try to focus investment to favor one group or another. The best mitigating factor can often be linking financial returns to clear outcome metrics and ensuring there are strong provisions in any agreement to mandate minimum standards for access, quality, and service. Structured correctly, innovative financing mechanisms can be highly effective.
In your new role as Vice-Chair of the Global Fund Board, how are you planning to elevate conversations around innovative financing?
Innovative financing is one of the priorities of the Secretariat, the Board, and as it happens, it is also an area of focus of mine. This is no accident. In choosing me, the Board itself made a clear statement – one among many – that it is looking to increase the leverage of the Global Fund’s resources through new financing mechanisms. I hope to be influential in moving this agenda forward.
The Global Fund has a number of existing innovative financing mechanisms in its arsenal including loan buy downs, Debt2Health, social impact bonds, trust funds and blended finance, how can the Global Fund make better use of these platforms to tap new sources of capital?
You are right that the Global Fund has been a leader in this space, but in the sector as a whole, there is still a long way to go to achieve scale commensurate with the problems these mechanisms are trying to address. The Global Fund can build on its initiatives to date to create opportunities for large corporate, public, philanthropic, and institutional investments into health at a size not yet witnessed, and which can accelerate the development of the innovative financing sector in general.
What are some exciting opportunities in the health financing space that the Global Fund is poised to take advantage of?
Outcome based models that monetize the social value of improvements in health to tap into additional public, corporate, and philanthropic funding; financial instruments that give investors across the wealth and geographic spectrum the opportunity to use their investment portfolios to support global health; new ways to engage the next generation philanthropists who are looking to see real impact for their charitable giving. These are all opportunities the team at the Global Fund is actively pursuing
What are you hoping to accomplish during your tenure as Board Vice-Chair?
First off, I have the benefit of an outstanding Board Chair in Aida Kurtovic, an engaged Board membership, and the opportunity to build on a very strong foundation laid by our predecessors. So anything accomplished during my tenure will be the result of a team effort. That being said, we have a number of priorities, including identifying new leadership for the Secretariat that meets the stellar standards set by our previous Executive Director, exploring a range of mechanisms that can broaden our funding base and leverage and multiply our impact, and helping countries transition to sustainable financing for health over the long-term, thereby setting the stage for a successful Replenishment in 2019.
About Ambassador John Simon
Ambassador John Simon, recently selected as Vice-Chair of the Board of the Global Fund, is a distinguished government official with special expertise in innovative finance, and is currently founder and managing partner of Total Impact Capital, an impact investing firm. He has served as United States Ambassador to the African Union, and as Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).
At OPIC, Ambassador Simon championed impact investing, including efforts to develop a series of social development funds for Africa. Ambassador Simon also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Relief, Stabilization, and Development for the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House, the first to hold this post. During his tenure at the NSC, Ambassador Simon oversaw the implementation of groundbreaking development initiatives, including the Millennium Challenge Account, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, and the President’s Malaria Initiative. He was also responsible for the U.S. government response to international humanitarian disasters, such as the 2005 South Asia Earthquake.
From 2002 to 2003, Ambassador Simon was Deputy Assistant Administrator at the United States Agency for International Development, overseeing the agency’s development information and evaluation units. Earlier in his career, he served as Director of Business Finance and Strategic Planning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Executive Office for Administration and Finance in several capacities, including Deputy Director for Research and Development.
Ambassador Simon received his bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University.
GBCHealth serves as the Focal Point to the Private Sector Delegation (PSD) to the Global Fund Board. The PSD is a group of companies that brings the business voice to the Global Fund and helps shape the strategy of the leading funding agency in global health.