Global philanthropy for global health

By April 7, 2017 October 25th, 2018 Global Economy & Relations

A very local, personal act – caring for a loved one in hospital, funding a research professor, donating to cure a disease. These sometimes feel like isolated acts, but they are not. Philanthropy and disease are not bound by geography, and development officers should boldly cross borders, too.

Whether donors look at depression, or trauma, or cardiac care, or AIDS research, or Ebola, or Zika virus – the challenges are global, and the research is global. For each donor supporting a local hospital or a research centre, the impact might be directly in front of him or her. Yet philanthropic leaders need to stretch both donors and development offices to set their sights on global solutions.

This year, World Health Day is dedicated to education and awareness about depression. The statistics are staggering. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 10% of people worldwide suffer from some form of common mental health disorder, defined as mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or alcohol/substance abuse. Ireland ranks fourth in the world for suicide amongst young men, and in the United States, depression affects more than 15 million adults. From a small European country to an economic giant, depression has a serious impact on health and wellness.

Mental health is a major, worldwide healthcare challenge, but it is also a challenge emerging from the shadows. A donor in one country has the ability to help patients around the world. So how do nonprofits adapt their funding models when healthcare and research budgets are under stress in virtually every country? And how do donors pull mental health from the dark corner of the room and shed light on the very real battles people face every day?

There are donors who give globally to have local impacts. They support research that is happening in both developed and less developed countries. But even at the local level, fundraising for healthcare throughout the world isn’t that different.

Organisations need to engage with donors on the root causes of illness, but also with patients and donors at the coalface. And the words “at the coalface,” translated for American friends as “on the frontlines,” is a demonstration that gift officers have to relate this urgency to donors where they are and in a way that resonates with them.

How do organisations engage donors about mental health disease, treatment, research, and solutions? Just as they do with cancer research, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis. We personalise it. We tell stories about failures and successes; we let donors tell their stories without embarrassment, just like they would tell a story about their car accident or their injuries from skiing. We let them talk about their “broken bones” and about the “broken bones” of their friends and families because we need to shed light on mental health challenges. But, we must get the best treatments and cures to all corners of the world, because the needs are universal and the response must be global.

Whether the donor is a Saudi giving to an American research hospital, or a Brit giving to an Irish family support centre for suicides, or Bill and Melinda Gates fighting AIDS in Africa, or Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan looking for cures to all diseases for all people – the problems and solutions are intertwined, local and global.

As fundraisers, our perspectives may be local since we are charged with supporting a particular community or a particular country, but we need to encourage our donors and our program leaders to think globally. We must make sure that we are partnering with other countries and other charities to take the latest innovations to unlock the mysteries of all illnesses, including mental illness. We need to foster the ability to find treatments and cures wherever they are, and we need to make sure those treatments and cures get to everyone who needs them regardless of which continent they call home. To do that most effectively, we need to engage more donors and raise more funds. And most importantly, we need to let donors and patients tell their stories to the world, and we need the world to respond with their support.

We can give and care locally, but we must think about how we can take our stories and impact to the world. Now is the time for Global Philanthropy to lead us to Global Health.

Gina Carro is a United States-based Vice President and Chris Massi is a Europe-based Senior Consultant.

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