Branding Health: The Rise of Public-Private Partnerships in Global Health

For the past few months, we've been working with GlobalPost and The GroundTruth Project to investigate the rise of public-private partnerships in global health, for the project "Branding Health," a GlobalPost 'Special Report.' The report is the culmination of a year-long reporting effort, produced by the GroundTruth Project in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation. The GroundTruth Project is a non-profit that publishes the work of young reporting fellows and a network of correspondents as ‘Special Reports’ for GlobalPost and its editorial partners, including NBC News and NPR.org. 

So, on Monday, our first ever interactive mapping project went live!

The partners tab visualizes which US Fortune 500 companies have global health partnerships with USAID.

The partners tab visualizes which US Fortune 500 companies have global health partnerships with USAID.

USAID’s public-private partnerships in global health and water sanitation are distributed across 76 countries. The trends tab shows which countries have the most partnerships and which countries have received the greatest amount of funding

USAID’s public-private partnerships in global health and water sanitation are distributed across 76 countries. The trends tab shows which countries have the most partnerships and which countries have received the greatest amount of funding

If you enjoyed the map, please share it! Tweet (#brandinghealth), post to Facebook, email it, etc. The GroundTruth journalists did a phenomenal job, and we’d love your help getting their work out there.

Finally, this project would not have been possible without our incredibly talented developer and good friend, Sam Matthews http://mapsam.com.


We had a great time creating this map, but we also enjoyed reading all of the stories included in the final report. The following thoughts on PPP's are entirely our own, and in no way reflect the views of GlobalPost or the GroundTruth Project.

When we first began working with their team, they shared with us a striking statistic at the heart of their investigative report: “In 1970, over 70 percent of financial flows from the US to the developing world came from government aid, and the rest came from the private sector. Today, more than 90 percent comes from private sources.”

And these sources are companies that we know… Coca-Cola. Walmart. Chevron. Starbucks. McDonald's. Monsanto. Nike. General Motors.

It's an exciting concept: big companies with big budgets collaborating with USAID to tackle issues like maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS, water sanitation, and access to critical medicines. This model has the potential to result in more partnerships and collaboration, better strategic planning due to private sector support, and increased funding.

The goal of the GlobalPost Special Report was to investigate what these partnerships actually look like on the ground, however, see how they function, and question whether the model is indeed sustainable, effective, and positive. 

In Cameroon, for example, ExxonMobil is working to help combat malaria. Why malaria? And why Cameroon?  GlobalPost explains:

"One ideal for giving aid is to do a needs analysis, asking what is needed here? NGOs and governments commonly start their projects that way. But look at a list of current PPPs, and it is clear that they tend to focus on what the company needs: a healthy workforce, a good working relationship with the government, and good public relations. For the malaria project, Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America, asks: 'Are there other public health needs that aren’t being met because they have less of an effect on ExxonMobil’s bottom line or work force? That’s an important question to ask, and I think it’s difficult to know the answer to that.'" 

Undoubtedly, there is a bit of a pattern: companies work in places where they have made business investments, and they do things that ultimately improve their bottom line.

Merck, for example, gets a huge tax break for giving away millions of dollars worth of free medicine as part of the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control (APOC). And Coke has a river clean-up project in Tanzania that quickly helped to manage potentially bad publicity, but was ultimately a band-aid solution for a larger lack of sanitation. 

Even "selfless collaboration," like the Project Last Mile that Coca-Cola works on in Tanzania can lead to indirect benefits for companies. According to a study conducted by Yale's Global Health Leadership Institute: "Businesses have found that acting in a socially responsible manner has benefits in the marketplace, including increased brand recognition, greater loyalty and advocacy behaviors among company stakeholders, and even preferential treatment by consumers."

So, maybe the companies should be giving more, and maybe they should be working harder to understand larger structural issues, like who will pay volunteers, and what the root causes of pollution and poor sanitation are. Actually, they should definitely be doing these things. But in the end, is it bad for these Fortune 500 companies to have ulterior motives for engaging in these projects? Should we expect entirely altruistic engagement, or is the innovation that we're really talking about here the idea that we can find a way for companies to be equally invested in projects from a market perspective, resulting in a potentially positive feedback loop that, without the company, wouldn't exist in the first place?