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Tony Fratto: Davos — What Is It Good For?

It’s hard to arrive in Davos this year for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) without some unease. Anyone paying attention over the past year knows that there is no shortage of anxiety-inducing challenges. We faced wars both hot and cold; terror attacks, cyber attacks and viral attacks; economic stagnation and uncertainty; and volatility in energy markets — to name a few.


If Davos is intended to discuss and collaborate on the best ways to elevate living standards for the world’s citizens, the prospects for success can seem daunting. So the question I most often get asked about Davos relates to its impact: “What good comes of it?” Or the more pointed challenge: “Name one good thing that ever came from a bunch of rich guys meeting at a ski resort.”

So many of our economic challenges are global in nature — the cross-border movement of goods, services, intellectual property, people and investment capital — that spending some time talking about how to allow all this movement in safe, efficient and sustainable ways is critically important to generating and broadly sharing prosperity. Bringing global business leaders, government officials and civil society together for a few days — even in a posh Swiss mountain resort town — isn’t such a bad thing.

But if you’re looking for a specific example of success, an outcome clearly improving the well-being of real people — that “one good thing” — one of them is being celebrated this year at Davos: the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi).

Gavi, launched at the Davos WEF in 2000, was created to improve access to new and underused vaccines for children in the world’s poorest countries. It’s being celebrated this week on its 15th anniversary and a breathtaking record of success resulting in nearly 500 million additional immunizations of children around the world.

The idea for Gavi was to create a unique public-private partnership, bringing together governments, international health organizations, the vaccine industry and other partners in the private sector to deliver and lower the cost of life-saving vaccines. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave an initial $750 million in funding, with additional support provided since then.

Gavi has had a huge impact on health outcomes in the poorest countries.  Its programs have prevented 6 million future deaths from Hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, diarrhea, yellow fever and other diseases. It expects to reach an additional 300 immunizations between 2016 and 2020, saving 5 to 6 million more lives.

What’s often overlooked, but appropriate to emphasize here in Davos, is Gavi’s impact on economic outcomes — on tangible improvements in living standards for the world’s poorest people. Immunized children achieve higher IQ test scores and perform better in school. Lower child mortality and rates of sickness lessen economic and financial stress on families, communities, health systems and governments.

There are a lot of daunting challenges we’re facing. But today there are literally hundreds of millions of children living with better lifetime economic prospects since Gavi was launched in Davos. That’s a pretty good outcome for an annual meeting in the mountains.

Top image: Courtesy of the Measles Initiative/C. McNab


Tony Fratto, a former U.S. Treasury and White House official, is a Partner at Hamilton Place Strategies.

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