As I know all too well, a propensity for change does not come easily to government. While still profound in its impact, government is rarely creative or revolutionary. But there is a new generation of philanthropists confronting some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Emboldened by successes in other fields, these new philanthropists are pushing new frontiers, from addressing inequality to combating climate change – and attempting to tackle issues in a way which government often cannot.
Underlying this new movement is the simple, but fundamental notion that has always driven progress: that things can be improved. These are people working in the pursuit of something better; not simply standing against what they perceive to be wrong. And this is important: too much of our public discourse revolves around a suspicion of the other, a distrust of democratic leaders, or conspiracies that good intentions are anything but. In systems already unreceptive to change, the result is often paralysis.
This cynicism is at odds at what we see at an individual level. Last year Americans gave $50 million to charities on Giving Tuesday alone. This is a cause for celebration: not just because of the compassion it demonstrates but because of the hope it engenders. It doesn’t matter if people give a handful of dimes or fistfuls of dollars. What matters is the conviction that collectively we can bring about a better world.
This optimism – and a belief that there are others will to stand with you – is something that has always driven me. I felt able to lead G8 nations in cancelling of African debts and doubling aid to the continent because I knew hundreds of thousands of campaigners across the world had given their time, money and energy to demand that we Make Poverty History. Together they emboldened a generation of leaders to take action that is still changing lives today.
My work on both of these issues – governance and extremism – has been shaped by my time as Prime Minister. It is personal, but I’m also privileged to work with people who share my determination to improve lives and tackle extremism.”
I have continued this work with my Africa Governance Initiative, which is helping a new generation of African leaders make their visions for development a reality. By working in partnership with governments, we are redefining how to support to nations on the path to modernisation. Our work has included delivering electricity, improving agriculture and developing infrastructure in countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria and Ethiopia. But after the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, the AGI also turned its efforts on combatting the disease. Sierra Leone has now been given the all-clear, while Guinea and Liberia are hopefully on the home stretch.
I am deeply proud of the work of my staff, but in helping establish response centres and working with the government to coordinate the fight against Ebola, they were few of many. The international community mobilised, and other philanthropists such as Paul Allen provided critical support. But the real heroes were and are the tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans, Liberians and Guineans who moved fast to save lives. They need continued support as they recover, but having come through this, they can now apply some of the governance lessons to post-crisis planning.
Our work with African governments is undertaken in the belief that governance is one of the key challenges of the 21st C. This is not just a matter of justice, but of equality. Globalisation simply will not work if others are left behind. Yet there is another key challenge still to be resolved. Even as technology brings people closer together, dissolving old boundaries of culture, identity and even nationhood, ideology continues to push people further apart.
This battle is between the open-minded and the closed-minded. If closed attitudes hold sway, the coming decades will be marred by more religious violence and oppression; if an open attitude prevails, we will be more firmly on the path to a more peaceful and prosperous globe. I founded my Faith Foundation to promote this more open worldview and I’m optimistic it is the view that will prevail. Because even amidst the grief of events such as Paris, we see the spirit of humanity that unites in opposition to that of barbarism.
My work on both of these issues – governance and extremism – has been shaped by my time as Prime Minister. It is personal, but I’m also privileged to work with people who share my determination to improve lives and tackle extremism. These are just some of the causes to which I give. But whatever cause you choose to give to, whatever life experience and values are behind it, the important thing is to not be cowed by the barriers or be discouraged by scepticism. This is a fast-moving world, but one which presents the biggest opportunity for positive change in history. Let us grasp it.
The work of the Africa Governance Initiative and Tony Blair Faith Foundation is now carried out by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.