Harnessing The Private Sector

WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund has been instrumental in enlisting a wide range of support to fight Covid-19.

Early last year, as Covid-19 began spreading around the world and efforts to develop a vaccine were just getting started, the World Health Organization (WHO) began putting its own program, the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, into play. This unexpected outbreak would require unprecedented new resources, just when the world’s governments that fund WHO’s work (the organization’s charter bars it from accepting donations directly from the private sector) would be hard-pressed to meet the needs of their citizens.

One critical element is the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund (SRF), through which WHO works with donors to address Covid-19. Along with WHO, the United Nations Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation host the fund, designed as a way for the private sector and individuals to contribute to the global effort.

“Donors from more than 190 countries generously gave to Covid-19 relief efforts through the fund,” says Kate Dodson, vice president for Global Health Strategy at the UN Foundation. As of mid-December, “more than 653,000 individuals, corporations and philanthropies have committed more than $238 million.”

Donations support WHO’s work, she explains, to track and understand the spread of the virus, to ensure patients get care and frontline workers get essential supplies, and to accelerate development of vaccines and treatments for everyone. SRF donations also support WHO partners such as Unicef, the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commission for Refugees, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). Over $220 million have been disbursed so far.

“These resources are helping to support countries around the world get vital information to help protect communities as well as critical supplies to help prevent, detect and respond to this global pandemic,” Dodson says.

WHO has shipped more than 285 million essential medical products to over 170 countries and territories, including respirators, masks, gloves, gowns, goggles, swabs and tests; trained 4.5 million frontline workers and responders and supported development of over 200 vaccine candidates.

Keeping people safe during the pandemic requires more than medical support, however. As countries closed borders to stop the spread, the WFP needed help continuing its work. At the start of the pandemic, the WFP invested in sustaining its own operations and setting up a comprehensive free-to-user services platform that helped the community of health and humanitarian organizations to continue delivering support to the most vulnerable populations.

To create this infrastructure, the WFP leveraged its existing partnerships with the public and private sector; but as pipeline requirements increased, it needed to activate its Service Provision plan to ensure the supply chain was efficiently delivering emergency items to priority countries.

“The Solidarity Response Fund was key in kick-starting the response,” says Baptiste Burgaud, head of the WFP’s Field Support Unit, Supply Chain Division. “It enabled WFP to establish and operate the global logistics distribution system, which was set up to overcome the supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and ensure the movement of goods and humanitarian personnel and the continuation of life-saving humanitarian programs.”

The private sector has been integral to the WHO’s fundraising effort as well. Two major partners, Facebook and Google, helped launch the SRF with gifts of $10 million and $5 million, respectively. Many other technology companies, including TikTok, Amazon, Twitch and Tiltify, also made large donations or are using their platforms to promote the WHO’s work. Spotify, for example, has provided an inventory of the audio ads and commercials on its platform to be used to share information with users globally on how to stop the spread of the pandemic. Additionally, the WHO has used TikTok’s platform to livestream pertinent information.

The gaming community has held events to raise money for the SRF such as Twitch Stream Aid, which included competitions featuring Fortnite and UNO, music performances and appearances by celebrity athletes. Viewers could donate to the campaign and encourage their communities to do the same. The 12-hour charity stream raised nearly $3 million in March.

A multiplatform digital fundraising event to help fight Covid-19, #HopeFromHome, brought together entertainers, influencers, gamers, streamers and users across social media including TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter and Facebook. The event featured stories and videos from the frontlines, information about prevention and a tool for donating to the fund, and raised $1.7 million overnight.

“One streamer even shaved his head live on air after generous donors got him over a set donation threshold,” Dodson says.

Along with financial contributions, the private sector has been integral in sharing public health information and raising Covid-19 awareness. Through the SRF, the WHO has educated people on how to protect themselves from the virus and how to recognize signs of Covid-19. The WHO also launched platforms on WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook to communicate with people directly. Google and Facebook shared information from the WHO to help people understand how to limit virus transmission, what signs to watch for and what to do if someone is sick.

As the WHO works to track and understand the virus to contain its spread, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provided advanced cloud technologies and technical expertise to help accelerate the effort. AWS has also built data lakes that aggregate epidemiological country data and rapidly translate medical training videos into different languages. AWS contributed free hosting services to help the WHO launch an app to support health workers around the world caring for Covid-19 patients. The app provides educational material including learning resources, such as virtual skills workshops.

AWS and Amazon also provided fundraising support for Twitch Stream Aid and participated in the WHO’s #PlayApartTogether campaign, a WHO and gaming industry initiative that encourages platform users to follow the WHO’s guidelines for social distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing. Twitch encouraged its community to fundraise independently by creating a campaign for the SRF.

Whether through direct donations or community mobilization, technology platforms, creatives and celebrity appeals have helped the SRF register a significant impact. But the hard work of ensuring equitable distribution of Covid-19 tools—and now, vaccines—is just beginning.

“Covid-19 showed us that none of us are safe until all of us are safe,” Dodson warns. “We risk losing 20 years of progress if we don’t stop the backsliding of progress we are seeing on things like vaccination coverage and hunger, keep equity at the heart of our efforts moving forward and safeguard against whatever global health threat may lie around the corner.”