UNITLIFE: A Briefing for Private Sector Partners

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015
Rockefeller Foundation, 420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY

UNITLIFE – a new financing mechanism to fund nutrition programs in sub-Saharan Africa – was launched at the United Nations on September 28th. Taking a novel approach to financing, UNITLIFE uses a micro levy on the extractive industry, to create cost-effective, scalable and sustainable solutions for maternal and child nutrition. UNITLIFE will have far-reaching consequences in preventing the long term health and economic impact of stunting and under nutrition. There are a number of ways and opportunities for private sector companies to support UNITLIFE, which were explored during a briefing jointly organized by GBCHealth, Innovative Finance Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation on September 29th, 2015.


  • Boubou Cissè, Minister of Mines, Mali
  • Philippe Douste-Blazy, United Nations Under-Secretary-General
  • Robert Filipp, Founder and President, Innovative Finance Foundation
  • Saadia Madsbjerg, Managing Director, Rockefeller Foundation
  • Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President, GBCHealth

Key Takeaways:

  • Under-nutrition is a fundamental health issue which underpins other health and development issues and is critical to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Investing in nutrition yields incredible returns with every $1 invested yielding a $15 ROI for a country.
  • There are finite donor resources available for the SDGs. As such, new and innovative sources are critical to meet funding needs and gaps.
  • UNITLIFE is an innovative, country-owned financing mechanism which will utilize a country’s natural resources to raise money for nutrition programs.
  • UNITLIFE presents an opportunity for private sector investors to make affordable, strategic interventions towards achieving the SDGs.

Detailed Overview:

GBCHealth, together with the Rockefeller Foundation and the Innovative Finance Foundation hosted an event on September 29th to brief private sector companies on UNITLIFE, which was launched at the United Nations on September 28th. The event brought together 30 attendees, representing different industries. Attendees heard about the need for UNITLIFE from its founding partners and supporters, and the potential for companies to be involved.

UNITLIFE was the first such initiative to be launched under the United Nations in the SDG-era said Philippe Douste-Blazy, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, and underscores the need for innovative financing to be central to the SDGs.  Modelled after the highly successful UNITAID, which Douste-Blazy played a foundational role in creating, UNITLIFE will operate by implementing a micro-levy on the public extractives industry to fund nutrition improvement programs in sub-Saharan Africa. “It’s the best investment for a country, with every dollar invested yielding a $15 return on investment” said Douste-Blazy. This return can be seen in terms of improved health and a positive impact on a country’s economy and GDP. The governments of Niger, Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali have joined UNITLIFE by agreeing to pioneer the initiative in their countries.

Speaking to the private sector attendees present, Douste-Blazy identified a company’s reputation, its relationship with local governments and investment in the development of the African continent as some of the main motivations for the private sector to collaborate on UNITLIFE.

“It was a no-brainer for us to get involved” said Boubou Cissè, Minister of Mines from Mali, speaking to the willingness of the Malian government to participate in UNITLIFE. Cissè talked about the current donor landscape and the challenges faced by developing countries in accessing development dollars. Countries, he said, are looking internally to identify new and innovative ways of financing development initiatives. In the case of Mali, with its abundant natural resources, the extractives industry was the first choice to tap for new development financing. Applying the successful experience of partnering with the extractive industry during the Ebola crisis, Mali will now work with extractives to raise funds to fight child under-nutrition, which affects 25-30 percent of children under five, and results in an 8-10% impact on the national GDP.

Describing how UNITLIFE will work Robert Filipp, Founder and President, Innovative Finance Foundation, likened UNITLIFE to a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) which can be used to improve daily lives, instead of for longer term investments. Filipp described UNITLIFE as a “game-changer”, bringing a small amount of money from a country’s natural resources to improve the health of its people. In the case of the oil industry, he said, this levy could be as little as $0.10 per barrel of oil. The levies collected would go into a central fund which would then be disbursed to fund nutrition improvement programs where needed.

UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF, where a small administrative team will be based to manage funds raised through UNITLIFE. Using UNICEF’s architecture, UNITLIFE will save on operating expenses, allocating only 5 percent of funds raised to its operating costs. UNITLIFE will be governed by a stakeholder Board comprising its founding contributors, countries implementing UNITLIFE-supported programs, Civil Society, Private Sector and Private Foundations.

Underscoring the critical need to invest in nutrition to achieve the SDGs Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President of GBCHealth, spoke about the business case for companies to support UNITLIFE. Better nutrition, Wildfeir-Field said, builds capacity for sustainable local enterprise, awareness and capacity for public participation, contributing to a country’s economic development. Companies can help deliver necessary funding, and also collaborate to address some of the other necessary solutions such as behavior change, integrated delivery mechanisms, product development, and supply chain support/development. “Business can bring its collective strength across the breadth of its operations to address the challenge of under-nutrition” said Wildfeir-Field, inviting companies present to provide their input, feedback and reactions.

During the discussion, participants welcomed the innovative approach taken by UNITLIFE in bringing new funding to address under-nutrition. Leadership from the Global Alliance on Improved Nutrition (GAIN) underscored the need for national plans to improve nutrition, and whether UNITLIFE could play a catalytic role in creating such plans.  Local commitments are the key in ensuring the success of this initiative.

Participants also requested clarification on how UNITLIFE would implement programs it funds. Filipp and Douste-Blazy confirmed that UNITLIFE, like its predecessor UNITAID, will work through implementing partners and function as a scaled, pooled and cooperative mechanism.

The event closed with Wildfeir-Field reinforcing the call for companies to support UNITLIFE and inviting companies to share their comments and feedback on how best the private sector can do so.

Nisa PatelUNITLIFE: A Briefing for Private Sector Partners