Funders’ Forum der Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Speech by Dr Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

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Dear Mr Mundel,

dear representatives of funding organizations from Germany and beyond,

I would like to continue the warm welcome Trevor Mundel has expressed and also welcome you on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. I am delighted to speak here today not only because the Funders’ Forum is the very first event of this year’s Grand Challenges Annual Meeting – but also because we are here to celebrate a diverse and colourful funding landscape in global health. 

We are pleased so many major international funders playing a pivotal role in global health are gathered here today. Each and every single one of them is unique. Some funding organizations are small, others are big or even “giants”. Some focus on specific thematic areas, others cover the full range of science and humanities. Some specialize in funding individuals, others in improving infrastructures – because different funders have different strengths. I would like to illustrate these different strengths by drawing on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as two examples. They are two funders which have joined their efforts to make this year’s Grand Challenges Annual Meeting happen – and to hopefully make it a success.

The Gates Foundation and other charitable private funders are often driven by immensely dedicated individuals with a strong passion and desire to do good. Such funders are often able to react quickly and flexibly to challenges that come their way. The Gates Foundation has shown this by setting up important programs in response to emerging health problems. One example is their program “Accelerate to Zero” to combat Malaria, which has helped to reduce malaria deaths worldwide by more than 40 percent in the course of 12 years.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research or other public funders may, in comparison, be perceived as less flexible. That, however, is not necessarily true. We fund exciting programs in global health, for example the “Research Networks for Health Innovations in Sub-Saharan Africa”. As part of this program, we are investing 50 million Euros over the course of five years in order to build capacity, enhance international cooperation and develop long-lasting infrastructures for research and health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now all networks are up and running, African junior researchers are being trained and solid connections with local policymakers have been established. 

Moreover, public funders have an additional role to fulfill, which often does not receive the attention it deserves: Our work is the result of intense political and societal debates. In passionate discussions between various groups of society, political parties and members of parliament, acceptance for funding has to be built and consensus has to be reached. A striking example is the recent German coalition treaty, which was jointly developed by all governmental parties – and I am proud to say this coalition treaty places a strong emphasis on global health. In fact, I believe it is a key strength of public funders that our legitimacy is grounded in democratic processes.

Even more important than the diversity gathered here, however, is this: Because we are different and because we bring different strengths to the table, jointly we can create something new, something unique. Jointly, we make up a funding landscape that is colourful and diverse – and complementary. Let’s take a closer look at the research path from basic research to large-scale roll-out of innovations. This should persuade us that success can only be achieved when different funders work hand in hand. An example: Funding of basic research, as undertaken by the “Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft” for example, funding of programmatic research with a strong focus on application and transfer by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and funding of mission-driven research by the Gates Foundation complement one another in order to advance research and innovation and to bring an idea from inception to fruition.

What unites all of us as funders is that we have a vision to develop solutions to today’s challenges in global health and that we are working hard to make our contribution to turn this vision into reality. And yet we all know: A humanitarian attitude and the will for action only constitute the first step. The efficient and responsible deployment of resources is crucial. And finally, we need to join forces to successfully tackle complex problems and develop comprehensive solutions.

I am excited to see that the major funders in global health have accepted our invitation to come together today. We know we need to be well-connected in order to act efficiently. Working together, pooling resources and aligning action will contribute to achieving success. Let me mention the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership, EDCTP, which is a good example. This funding initiative is jointly governed by African and European countries. It fosters clinical research in order to accelerate the development of drugs, vaccines and diagnostics against some of the most pressing public health threats. The Ministry of Education and Research is currently funding EDCTP to combat HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and other tropical diseases with 30 million Euros.

Aristotle said: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” He certainly did not think of funding at the time, but what he said fully applies to it. Funders should connect in order to reach their full potential. We should talk to each other, exchange views, investigate opportunities for collaborations and coordinate future action whenever possible and sensible.  

This Funders’ Forum is a unique opportunity for exactly that. It provides a forum which can pave the way for future collaborations. But it does not stop there. In the next few days, during the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2018, you will encounter multiple opportunities to get together, exchange and discuss views and make plans for the future.

We will transition from this meeting directly to the Welcome Reception of the Grand Challenges Meeting. There, you can expect around 1300 representatives from academia, civil society, economy, and politics who come together to address the world’s most urgent global health and development problems.

I urge you: Do engage with others in the scientific track sessions, during the plenaries and in the interactive roundtable sessions. Seize the multiple networking opportunities. You may wish to view the poster displays of our promising young German scientists who are able to present their work during the meeting as “Rising Stars” this year. You may also wish to visit the “Spotlight on Innovative German Organizations” – or in short: the “Innovation Pavilion” –, a display where up-and-coming German companies and young academics showcase their products and ideas.

We are convinced, the people you will encounter and the ideas you will be confronted with will be influential for the work of your organization. They will surely be groundbreaking for the future of global health.

Thank you very much for being our guests today. Enjoy the evening and, during the next days, enjoy the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting.