US-based PATH seeks to tap Middle East donors

The president and CEO of PATH, a US-based nonprofit focused on improving global health outcomes, said Wednesday the group is looking to engage with Middle Eastern private donors in order to extend its efforts in the region.

“We need to advance our work in the region, and there are public and global health issues in the region that we can assist with,” Steve Davis told Philanthropy Age on the sidelines of the Global Vaccine Summit in Abu Dhabi, an event hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

PATH, which has more than 1,200 employees in more than 30 offices around the world, develops health technologies across a range of sectors, from vaccine delivery to water and sanitation, to epidemic diseases such as malaria and HIV. It has already undertaken projects in Egypt, North Africa and the Gulf states.

“Individual philanthropic donations are becoming more and more important, and it’s an area that we are committed to building out more and more, because it’s such an essential element of the work we do to catalyse new ideas,” Davis said. “We have had Middle East private donors in the past, but it has been modest. Now we see the landscape of innovation is changing, and the need for catalytic donations has become critical.

“Governments and large foundations do essential work, but they’re not ‘angel’ investors,” he added. “Repeatedly, we have seen a $20,000 investment into early ideas, get churned into a $50m suite of efforts funded by governments and foundations. Private, more flexible and more targeted donations are a critical piece of the future.”

Davis said the organisation would have a budget of “around $350m dollars in terms of revenue” in 2013. Just under half of its budget is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Davis said, while the rest is accounted for by US government sources, global health and development bodies, other philanthropic foundations and private donors. Davis also identified a “shift” in the way US and European health and development organisations engage with emerging regions such as MENA.

“We’re seeing a switch from a supply-side environment to more of a demand-side environment,” Davis said. “In 20th century aid and development you had a predominantly Geneva-London-Washington DC-driven agenda, and there was a lot of throwing stuff over the fence [to emerging regions] and seeing what got picked up.

“Now, the customer is in charge of the product. It has changed from people developing technology or systems where cost wasn’t a big driver, because at some point it would be subsidised. There has been a shift to say, ‘no, it’s got to be developed at a cost where this changing world demographic can adopt it, and it’s got to be done in a way that’s culturally relevant, so that the customer approves’.”