The following is a transcript of the welcome remarks shared by PQMD Executive Director Elizabeth “EJ” Ashbourne at the 2019 Executive Forum, held at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland…

Today, we have more than 100 global private sector, non-profit, humanitarian and government agency leaders from over 68 organizations participating in this 2 day program.  This event would not have been possible without the leadership, vision and support of so many people and organizations. Special thanks to our event sponsors: World Economic Forum, Henry Schein, BD, Midmark, AbbVie and Pfizer.

For those of you here for the first time, PQMD is a Global Alliance committed to advancing the role of donations worldwide. With 42 members representing leading international and U.S. based NGOs and global healthcare companies in pharmaceutical, medial products and devices. Founded in 1999, our work is guided by 5 pillars:

o   Humanitarian assistance

o   Health systems strengthening

o   Disaster response

o   Guidelines and standards

o   Knowledge and innovation

By virtue of our network, our members leverage their partnerships, expertise and resources to focus on the global commitment to building and strengthening community resilience, supporting disaster preparedness and response capacity, all while adhering to the highest standards of excellence in donation practices.

 As Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, but expecting different results.”  Perhaps it is not obvious how this relates to this meeting, but in thinking about what we might do, what we might bring to the global health community, and all the experts and diverse group of stakeholders in this room, it occurred to me that we all go to the same conferences, the same forums and hear similar ideas, challenge the same paradigms, and call for innovation and action in the hopes of collectively making a bigger difference, making a bigger impact, and somehow finding that magic bullet that will move the bar in a way it hasn’t been moved before. I sincerely hope we will get there, but I am not sure we are there yet.

PQMD Executive Director Elizabeth “EJ” Ashbourne gives opening remarks at the World Economic Forum during the 2019 Global Health Policy Forum.

I recently participated in a meeting at Harvard with many extraordinary people, all doing incredible work on NCDs, and when a question was asked about how the work might be enhanced or accelerated by partnering with the private sector, the panel responded by saying “it was first critical to define what ‘partnership’ would mean before considering discussing a possible role for the corporate sector.”

I’ve personally been fighting this battle for 25 years as have many of you in this room, and this meeting has no intention of starting the conversation with defining “partnership.”  It has been done repeatedly.  Rather, all of us are already involved in productive, collaborative, innovative, and long-term partnerships.  In fact last year, Jeff Sturchio of Rabin Martin, in his keynote address, said, “one of the most important lessons we have learned from a generation of work by PQMD members is that the most effective donation programs are those that are delivered though broad coalitions of partners, each of whom has a specified role within the network, all focused on achieving a common objective.” We recognize the complexity of a shared language among multi-sector relationships.  We recognize that we look at the wicked problems of development, black swan events, and disruptive but productive solutions completely differently. And that diversity of perspective gives us strength and gives us a valuable voice in the global health policy community. 

PQMD has been involved in donations and global health for 20 years, with an estimated $40 billion already invested in partnerships committed to defying the status quo in communities worldwide.  My mandate from the beginning of my tenure has been to explore the reaches of the voice of PQMD in global thought leadership and identify new opportunities and pathways for our coalition to influence global health policy. To that end, we have together sought to identify the best path to cut and the best way to contribute.  If money, products and passion were the answer, we wouldn’t still be asking the questions: how do we create better access to medicine and healthcare to the underserved; how do we eliminate or eradicate treatable diseases; how do we respond to the rapid and simultaneous onset of global disasters and pandemics; how do we build better health systems; how do we create resiliency instead of dependency on donations; how do we engage all those who need to be in protracted humanitarian crisis; how are the paradigms of global philanthropy shifting;  how do we get the same investment in disaster preparedness that we have for disaster response; and, perhaps most poignantly, how do we know that we are making a difference – how do we know, and measure, our impact on health outcomes and all the things we are collectively dedicated to improving? How do we know we are moving the needle? 

Our Global Health Policy Forums helped shape a policy framework designed to guide and accelerate our collective agenda, tackle policy obstacles and build cross-sectoral competencies and hybrid models of engagement.  Through our Forums, we have created the building blocks for trusted transformational change.  Our exploration of these topics resulted also in our new Collective Impact toolkit to address the monitoring and evaluation gaps for medical donations. We have ramped up our engagement in policy discussions with agencies, institutions, academia, global conferences, the American and Canadian Evaluation Societies, CGI and others. We have also developed a dynamic and exciting Community of Practice that regularly engages the global health and donation communities far beyond our membership. And we have further cemented the trust and collaborative spirit that has resulted in a clear vision on how best to optimize what we are doing.

This forum, as with those before, seeks to challenge our perceptions and reflect on possibilities and opportunities of disruptive action. It invites all of you to explore and innovate on how best to build the organizational, corporate, and institutional agility necessary to navigate the response needed to address the global, regional, national and community level access to health challenges of those most in need. 

We are not sitting here to define the role of all the stakeholder partnerships in global medical product donations, because we are already experts at what we do and we know how to work together.  We are sitting here today, to step up and step out of our comfort zones.  We have plenty of guard rails and frameworks that are valuable guides in our quest, such as the SDGs, the Sendai Framework, the WHO Building Blocks of Health Systems Strengthening, our own PQMD Global Donation Guidelines, the Paris Climate Accords, various global conventions, and many more.

 Let’s together question the fundamentals of what we know, and inspire transformational thinking, innovative responses, and disruptive action to address such challenges as large scale voluntary migration due to economic, climate, or political conflict as outlined in the World Migration Report; how best to mitigate the emergence and impact of the top 10 global health threats as identified by WHO; and, what we can collectively contribute to solutions that minimize the impacts of the looming anti-microbial threats, fragile supply chains and health systems, myriad refugee crisis, and natural and man-made disasters

The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report asks if the world is sleep walking into a crisis.  I don’t think anyone here today is sleep walking.  Indeed, I believe that we are wide awake and ready to do whatever is necessary to prepare and respond to humanitarian crisis where ever, whenever and in whatever form it comes. In fact we have proven that point already in our rapid and global mobilization of resources for the hyperactive disaster season of 2017 and the many crises in 2018, our massive joint response to Ebola, PQMD member support for all 10 of the WHO global health threats, and our readiness and willingness to invest, as both donors and implementers, in resilience and preparedness of health systems for future crisis.  It is on the success of these contributions that the agenda for the Forum is resting, and recognizing that through collective transformation we can do better and we can do more and we can be significant and effective supporters of the quest to achieve the WHO Triple Billion Target.

As we discussed last year, donations are but part of the package that we bring to the quest for Universal Health Care.  Donations of product and cash are both critical to urgent response and support to health systems.  Donations can act as catalysts to stimulate a longer-term strategy towards sustainable and resilient communities.  But the donations are only part of the picture that also must include support for issues of food security, clean water, girls’ education, maternal and child health, infrastructure, and political will, both globally and locally. 

PQMD, as a coalition of organizations and companies, with partnerships that span over two decades, is uniquely placed to convene the thought leaders here today, to explore our collective leverage that will lead to greater access to healthcare for those in disasters, protracted crisis situation, remote and off-the-grid communities, and for the most vulnerable populations.