On the rare occasion that an idea changes the course of history, it can offer a moment to pause and look back to its genesis; following the story upstream, from the rolling river of its success to the headwaters of its source. This is the story of a remarkable philanthropic funding partnership, which, through a combination of inspiration, vision, expertise and action, plus an $8 million funding injection, championed a revolutionary method for treating those at risk from a pernicious group of diseases. Known as Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), they afflict, through chronic disability and morbidity, the poorest billion people in the world. It began with a cappuccino, and a spur-of-the-moment phone call …
In 2006, when Professor Alan Fenwick, a leading parasitologist, gave an interview to health journalist Andrew Jack of the Financial Times, about funding for his programmes on neglected diseases in the world’s poorest countries, he did not expect to pick up the telephone the following morning to Alan McCormick, a Partner at global investment firm Legatum. McCormick had been drinking coffee and scanning the newspaper, as part of the usual daily digest for investments, when a phrase from an interesting article on philanthropy implanted itself in his mind: that such treatable ailments ‘do not need innovation but simply modest funding and a little imagination in order to distribute drugs to those in need.
McCormick realised that, potentially, Legatum, with its active Foundation, could provide both. He was inspired by the idea that it might be possible to change the lives of millions, to free them from the burden of devastating illness, for as little as 50 cents per person. He picked up the phone. Of that initial conversation with Alan McCormick, Fenwick recalls: ‘I had never had a call from a private investor before, and this call came at a very important time. Up until that point, I had received $55 million from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but, because we had achieved our initial aims, the funding had been withdrawn. I was very disappointed, and I expressed this to my interviewer at the FT. We were absolutely dedicated to improving lives for 50 cents per person per year, and suddenly, I was talking to someone who found it as exciting as I did, and who could make it possible. Alan invited me to make a proposal to roll out these programmes in four countries, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Mozambique. Initially, I was sceptical. It hadn’t occurred to me that a private foundation would support to that level.’