Turning Challenges to Opportunities

April 26, 2012

With the closing of the Global Health Council (GHC) reactions have included shock/surprise and sadness.  As it evolved over its almost 40 years, it became an important convener for the global health community. The GHC announcement includes the following text: “Funding that once existed to promote a broad-based health agenda is now focused on specific health issues. The fundamental shifts in the health landscape have led the Board to revisit the relevance of the organization and determine that the Council’s current operating model is no longer sustainable.”  The reasons given most likely only hint at the full picture.  There has been little analysis thus far, but what I have seen has focused more on the ‘funding move from focus on broad-based health agenda to specific health issues’ than the GHC’s ‘operating model’.   Although I do not know the ins and outs of what actually happened to lead the GHC Board to decide to close its doors (and we may never), I believe that seen in the context of changes happening elsewhere in the global social sector, there are lessons that can help turn the loss of an important convener group to an opportunity to revisit important needs of the global health community and how to address them.

Often in situations where organizations have had to close down their operations it is due to internal organizational challenges, and as the Council announcement notes ‘current operating models,’ not the lack of need for the convener role.  One similar example is the International Association of Jazz Education. It also played a major global convener role and was seen as  a ‘foundation’ of the global jazz community, yet closed after almost 40 years in 2008 when the organization faced operational challenges. Interestingly the structure that arose to fill the information exchange and networking need started as a more informal network.

As the external environment is challenging traditional structures it may be that the traditional NGO structure is no longer the best way to cover these information exchange and convening roles.  Other ‘newer’ structures, for example the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) (founded in 2003) uses a widespread network.  Global groups like the UN and national groups like USAID  are increasingly encouraging public-private sector alliances. Online and offline interaction is going to be increasingly important and groups like WiserEarth  are experimenting with this.  Hopefully from the end of the GHC we will see an opportunity for the global health community to think of new and more effective ways of organizing. For the need to provide information exchange forums is still very much alive.

UPDATE February 2013 – GHC (now the Global Health Coalition)  looks to recreate itself as a network.