Philanthrocapitalism a means to Soft Power in Global Health, by Henrietta Ezegbe

In this era of global rise in charity spending, and dependence on donor aid particularly in the spheres of global health by developing nations, It is interesting to see how wealthy philanthropists gain an incredible amount of influence, and basically purchase soft power through mega donations that sometimes even supersede the place of domestic governments. A case in point is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; a powerhouse that plays an incredibly solid role in structuring and governing policies at top levels of international decision-making in the spheres of global health. One cannot help but wonder how a privately owned organization attained such magnitude of power that allows it actually dabble into the affairs of global health governance.

As crucial as donor aids are, they are not without problems as no one holds philanthropists who dole out huge sums of capital and resources accountable. Consequently, the personal principles and ideologies of a few mega donors end up structuring and shaping societies to which they donate, a proof that power lies in the potential to attractively influence the inclinations of others.

Philanthrocapitalism threatens health sovereignty in my opinion. The use of donor aid to structure public institutions often results in directly or indirectly ceding parts of a nations health sovereignty rights to mega donors. For instance, in my experience as a physician providing primary care for People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria, we are faced with evidences of wealthy philanthropists micromanaging global health affairs that should be prerogatives of the government. I argue that these are some of the reasons for extensive zones of abandonment and its resultant health effects particularly among people living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. This is as a result of poor coordination by folks with inadequate knowledge of local norms and traditions, and not to mention the issue of internal brain drain.

Philanthropy in my opinion weakens political commitment, and I dare say, the extremes of Philanthrocapitalism indirectly reduce receiving governments to mere placeholders. Corruption, unwillingness to research new grounds, and reluctance to step out of comfort zones are some of the major barriers to thriving governmental sectors in many developing nations. Revitalizing credible governments is a task that developing nations must not take for granted. These nations must work hard to create functional and effective national health care, which I argue, is the building block for establishing health sovereignty and a means to achieving sustained social welfare, and less dependence on donor aid. In conclusion, I wish to reflect on what the stand of wealthy philanthropists would be assuming developing nations move towards achieving total health sovereignty. Will the mega donors be allies to this “movement”?

Dr. Henrietta Ezegbe is a physician and public health practitioner. A fresh graduate from the Simon Fraser University Master of Public Health Program in the Global Health concentration, Henrietta is interested in HIV/AIDS research specifically among underserved population in high and lower middle-income settings. 

5 Comments

  1. Dr. Ezegbe makes an excellent point. Although we are grateful for philanthropists’ kind donations, philanthrocapitalism may do more harm than good to the local communities. It also saddens me how large proportions of global aids come from wealthy individuals–which indicates both extreme global income inequality and lack of systematic global governance that facilitates sufficient finance allocation.

  2. A clear, concise and very educating piece on Philanthrocapitalism!
    Well done Dr. Ezegbe!

  3. Interesting article Henrietta.
    In my opinion, a philanthropist should be able to avail their resources without trying to supercede governance. But then again, their money gives them the ability to purchase power “philantrocapitalism”, but the onus is on the Government to be responsible and not cede their nations to external agendas and influences. But that has been the bane of so called “resource limited” countries.

  4. Dr. Ezegbe makes interesting points in regards to philothrocapitalism, with great examples of current foundations that hold a lot of power in the elite society that are nefarious and haven’t helped the government as they are not open minded in their ways and have been displayed as being stubborn. She also explained her through her own experience as how certain private foundations work and they impacted her work in Nigeria.

  5. ROBERTO FERNANDEZ-VARGAS

    July 9, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    Although there are good hearted people everywhere, systemically there are only investments in capitalism. Investors, or donors, as they prefer to be called, do so expecting in return, be it tax excemptions, access to a market or to natural resources. Philanthrocapitalism, as a good example of soft penetration in resource rich lands, is eloquently unveiled by Dr. Ezgbe. Our corrupt, inefficient and slow moving governments and public agencies result in ideal partners for the donors’ interests as they gain access to decision making processes that directly or indirectly benefit them in return. As a health provider in a NGO in the Caribbean, I find this discussion relevant and eye opening. And the kind of theme we should be addressing. Well written.

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