In Oslo City Hall, magnificent murals that depict Norway’s beginnings span entire walls. The country’s vibrant history is felt in every room, and yet — as it holds the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony — the space also plays host to the most uplifting visions of the future every year.
It’s therefore fitting that world leaders gathered here on Tuesday to pledge historical funding to the Global Financing Facility (GFF).
Launched in 2015, the GFF aims to save up to 35 million lives a year with an innovative fund that focuses on the health and nutrition of mothers, children, and adolescents. They do this by working with governments and various on-the-ground initiatives to identify and prioritize health issues specific to GFF-supported countries. They then help allocate resources to new and existing efforts that will result in cost-effective and sustainable solutions in health.
Under the beautiful paintings of the past, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg was eager to talk to Global Citizen about what’s coming next — and why protecting the next generation is so important.
“We have too many totally unnecessary deaths,” Solberg said. “There are 5 million women and children who are dying every year from preventable causes in connection to pregnancy — and it’s possible to do something about it.”
That’s why Norway chose to co-host the replenishment conference for the GFF, in collaboration with Burkina Faso, the World Bank Group, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Right now, the GFF works in 27 countries where they help effectively manage their health systems. But it hopes to expand to 50 countries — working on issues ranging from sexual and reproductive rights to mothers and babies surviving pregnancy.
Norway pledged $360 million to @theGFF at #GlobalCitizen Festival. Today, PM @Erna_Solberg insists we work even harder to change the world.— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) November 6, 2018
"It's important to continue to ask your governments to have an agenda on @TheGlobalGoals," she says. "There's no corner to hide in." pic.twitter.com/kME4w6DrHj
“I think the most important part is that … these types of basic health expenditures [should not be considered] expenditures,” Solberg said. “It’s an investment in your country.”
And Norway has led the world on that idea this year. On Sept. 29, Norway’s International Development Minister Nikolai Astrup announced at the Global Citizen Festival in New York that Norway was committing $360 million to the GFF until 2023.
That moment set in motion a chain of further pledges from the likes of Britain, Canada, Germany, and more. In total, over $1 billion was raised in one morning of coffee, canapes, and keynote speeches.
The goal of the conference was to raise $1 billion, but ultimately the GFF is looking to raise $2 billion in total in new support over the 2018-2023 period.
“I think it’s important that countries like Norway show a willingness to invest and hopefully that will inspire others to contribute,” Astrup told Global Citizen moments after the final commitment was announced. “We’ve seen a fantastic result today — we’ve raised more than a billion dollars with 10 new donors coming on board — so hopefully our early commitment at Global Citizen Festival has inspired others.”
Astrup namechecks the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — who committed $200 million at this week’s replenishment after first investing in the GFF in 2015 with a $75 million cash injection. But after over 432,000 Global Citizens took action over the last six months, some of the world’s richest countries also came on board. For the young activists who hassled their governments into life, Astrup is truly thankful.
Norway's @NikolaiAstrup has something important to say to global citizens who took action to support the #GFFReplenishment.— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) November 6, 2018
"I'm extremely grateful for all these people who have rallied their support for @theGFF," he says. “We need people to engage in these important issues." pic.twitter.com/sVdz9Zf18q
“I’m extremely grateful for all those people who have rallied their support to the GFF,” Astrup said. “Without them, the result wouldn’t have been as good as it was today. We need people to engage in these important issues — and we need people to engage with their governments — to step up to [end extreme poverty] by 2030.”
After a barrage of petitions, emails, and tweets, the UK pledged £50 million to the GFF until 2020; Germany committed €50 million subject to parliamentary approval; and Canada promised CAD $50 million specifically for 2019.
There were donations in the millions from Denmark, Japan, Qatar, the Netherlands, and the European Commission too — while countries like Nigeria recommitted to investing more in its domestic health budgets. Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire did both — and there was even a $75-million injection from a mysterious anonymous donor.
Huge news: today over $1 billion has been pledged to protect mothers, children, and adolescents around the world 🎈 Thank you to all the donor countries — and all the Global Citizens who took action! You all rock 💪 @theGFF#GFFReplenishment#InvestInHealth#SheIsEqualpic.twitter.com/CHxoWDOcsp— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) November 6, 2018
It wasn’t all politicos and panel talks either. Some of the most passionate advocates for the GFF were the youth envoys in their 20s from Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone — and even one 18-year-old Norwegian from Oslo with 515,000 YouTube subscribers, who joined the fight after reading about the 5 million women and children who die every year from preventable conditions.
“That number really stuck to me — because it’s the entire population of my country, basically,” Madeleine Hoen, also known as Macerly, told Global Citizen. “One of the main things about the millennial generation and generation Z is that we’ve learned so much about how the world isn’t perfect yet… We really want to help make it better.”
Alusine Bangura, a national coordinator for youth action in Sierra Leone, agreed: Young people want to be part of the process.
“We are not only leaders of tomorrow, we’re leaders of today,” he told Global Citizen. “If any government wants success and to live, the issues of young people involvement should be a first priority.”
Izundu Kosi — a youth representative who serves on numerous advocacy alliances and working groups to hold Nigeria accountable for the sustainable development goals — also provided a clear link from youth inclusion to the efficiency of how the GFF is delivered.
“Nigeria has tried to involve young people at a national level, but one person’s voice can not be representative of an entire nation,” Kosi said. “It’s important to have more voices so that young people at the grassroots — who have to reach areas of marginalized populations — are able to say how best to cater to their needs; compared to a fancy young person at a national level who probably does not understand the realities on the ground.”
Kosi and William are from Nigeria and Tanzania - and both in their twenties. They say it’s easy to work out how to help young people. Just ask them!— Global Citizen Impact (@GlblCtznImpact) November 5, 2018
“We should stop doing business as usual,” William says. “The world is changing.”
“Walk the talk,” Kosi adds. #InvestInHealthpic.twitter.com/eAv8mSFIPh
That connection between young and old underlines what the GFF is all about. The GFF trust fund doesn’t simply throw money at problems; it leverages funds to empower countries to expand existing systems. It’s about investing in the health and nutrition of mothers and children so the next generation of a country has the best possible chance to thrive.
“You can’t design something for adolescents without adolescents,” GFF Director Mariam Claeson told Global Citizen. “For us it’s not just a mantra — you actually work with young people so they’re consulted, but they’re also engaged in the design … they are essential.”
And in that cyclical process — from Global Citizens campaigning to support the GFF to young people helping deliver it — it will be today’s youth that end up running the show.
“The thing that’s most inspiring is when your children ask you tricky questions,” Solberg said. “When they have themselves thought about something that you have not really thought about yourself — when they make an observation, and they ask you: Is that fair?”
“No, it’s probably not fair,” she added. “To have the bright eyes of children tell you that a situation isn’t fair means we should do something about it.”