We all want to see the end of extreme poverty. But how do you tackle it? As our colleague (and resident nomad!) d’Arcy likes to say, you can tackle this massive issue the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
We’re thrilled to share the news that we’re one bite closer to ending extreme poverty! Last week the global community came together and pledged US$4 billion to completely wipe out polio – a disease that affects some of our world’s most vulnerable children, pulling them and their families deeper into poverty.
Our Global Campaign Manager, Michael, was lucky enough to attend the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, and watched in astonishment as governments including Canada and the UK joined Bill Gates and other philanthropists in making substantial funding commitments for a new plan to wipe out all polio, everywhere, by 2018. While that’s exciting news in its own right, what made it even more special was the knowledge that our supporters (i.e. you) had played an incredibly important role in securing these commitments – particularly from the Canadian and British governments.
How we did it
At the Global Poverty Project, we know that, in democratic societies at least, governments represent their constituents and act according to their wishes. As Bono says, “we can’t blame the politicians because we have to give them permission to spend what is in the end our money.” So we work to increase the number and effectiveness of ordinary citizens taking action to influence key decision-makers to do more to end extreme poverty and diseases like polio.
So when we heard that the global partnership working to end polio had come up with a new plan to eradicate this disease within the next six years, we knew that we needed to mobilise large numbers of people in some of the world’s wealthiest countries – namely, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – to convince their governments to help fund this new plan.
To do this, we took a four-pronged approach: media, events, public action and direct advocacy.
What better way to reach large numbers of people, including regular citizens and politicians, than to get the extraordinary story of polio eradication out in the media? We wrote op-eds, hosted newsworthy events (see below) and built relationships with key journalists, leading to more than 100 media clippings including coverage by the BBC, the Islam Channel, Embassy Magazine, the Independent on Sunday, the Sydney Morning Herald, Radio NZ National and the Diplomatic Courier. We worked in close collaboration with other organisations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UN Foundation and Rotary International to ensure a steady stream of “surround sound” around this issue, encouraging more people to join the campaign and encouraging governments to take this issue seriously.
Events kill many birds with one stone. They are an ideal platform for interacting with decision-makers and loyal supporters, while giving you a chance to secure media and public interest.
We hosted a variety of events across all of our target countries with at least one being held in each parliament/Congress, from the United States to New Zealand, with key leaders invited to attend. We engaged the Pakistani diaspora in Canada, mobilised grassroots support in the British Secretary of State for International Development’s electorate, and were able to secure, for the first time, a public statement of bipartisan support in Australia.
First we asked folks to sign the petition either on our website or through Global Citizen - and 40,000 people in 150 countries did!
This gave us a clear measure to demonstrate the breadth of public support for polio eradication; but we knew we also needed to show the depth. So we asked those who had signed the petition to take further actions, either to get their friends, family and followers to join the campaign or to demonstrate to world leaders the level of their support.
The response was incredible. Our supporters tweeted, posted on Facebook, wrote emails, penned letters, made phone calls and even met with their elected representatives to personally encourage them to take up the case. Together we helped build a global movement in support of eradicating this cruel virus.
We had a lot of meetings with government decision-makers. And almost every time we went, we took along the petition to demonstrate that there were 40,000 people behind us. Michael and Akram Azimi, the Young Australian of the Year and ambassador for this campaign, met with more than 25 members of parliament, including the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, in Australia alone.
We asked the government officials we met with to show their support for the campaign in concrete and tangible ways. Whether they were diplomats, bureaucrats, cabinet ministers or legislators, we asked them to express their support through tweeting, speaking in parliamentary debates, writing to their party leader and, ultimately, supporting an increase in funding from their respective governments.
Last week saw a historic moment – with more than 70% of the funding needed to end polio funded, up front, by the global community. But there’s still US$1.5 billion needed to completely wipe out this disease. We know that, without 100% in funding being fully committed, we are placing this unique opportunity at risk.
Funding shortfalls have plagued polio eradication efforts for too long, causing children to miss out on the vital protection of the polio vaccine and creating the ideal conditions for mass outbreaks. We have a narrow window of opportunity to wipe out this disease, right now, otherwise it will return with a vengeance, and paralyse more than 200,000 children a year.
At last week’s Global Vaccine Summit, Bill Gates was asked where he hoped the remaining funds would come from. He responded by singling out three countries in particular: Australia, Japan and the United States.
We don’t as yet have a presence in Japan, but we are determined to convince the Australian and American governments to pay for their fair share. So we need to keep up the momentum and continue to press the case in coming months. We mustn’t give up when we’re so close! In fact, if you have five minutes, why not show your continued support right now by taking the time to contact key decision-makers in the US and Australia.
Australia: Tweet @BobJCarr @JuliaGillard @AusAID
United States: Send Senator Harkin an email
Learn more about how the campaign succeeded in Canada and the UK and sign our petition here to convince others to fund the plan to end polio.