Jamie Drummond, co-founder of the ONE Campaign, believes in the power of policy advocacy in advancing equitable systems change writes Alexandra Frize-Williams. "One," a poem by Nigerian poet Sage Hasson frames the story.
"Billions of people all struggling to [fulfil] seeming different agenda
But we are all are in pursuit of one collective destiny
We all need just one
Jamie Drummond was 18 when the Berlin Wall came down, and he felt compelled to be there. He was at university at the time and turned up with his hammer. He remembers the celebrations afterward as wild — the best party of his life. A few years later, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison in South Africa. The iron curtain was falling, and apartheid was being dismantled. According to Drummond, the sense of “there are huge problems in the world, but we can overcome them” was palpable. Billions of people faced a multitude of struggles and were fighting their way out of desperate conditions. But at the same time, Drummond was struck by a profound drive for justice, freedom, democracy, and practical solutions. He and countless others were all on the march, together.
Drummond went on to work on a series of campaigns for the World Council of Churches and Christian Aid in the 1990s, often working collaborating with documentary filmmakers at the BBC. One of the stories he got the BBC to cover in 1995 was the 10th anniversary of Live Aid, Band Aid, and We Are the World. At the time, the media was aiming to prove that the global campaign had all been a waste of money and time. He set off to see for himself in Northern Ethiopia. He saw that it had been anything but a waste; the funds and time had been very well spent. A million people did not die, in large part because of the Live Aid, Band Aid, and We Are the World funding, and the attention these drew. Contour terracing, soil conservation, reforestation programs, proactive damming, and various other efforts had helped the people and the land recover from decades of conflict and poor natural resource management.
This progress notwithstanding, the Ethiopian government at that time was still spending more money repaying its debts — to institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the leading industrial nations (also called the Group of Seven or G-7) such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom — than it was able to spend on the health care and education that its citizens so desperately needed. A country trying to set out on its way after traumatic experiences was benighted and trapped by suffocating Cold War-era debts.
It occurred to Drummond that the US$200 million that Live Aid, Band Aid, and We Are the World had raised in 1984 and 1985 was about the same amount of money as Ethiopia was spending repaying its debts.
If he could persuade Quincy Jones, Bob Geldof, and Bono that the issue they should really work on was debt cancellation, not just raising aid, then they would have a demonstrative impact on Ethiopia every year rather than the funds simply taking the country back to zero. This was Drummond’s eureka moment in 1995: his revelation of the colossal potential return on investment from policy advocacy.
Drummond was not the only one. Around 60 countries needed some form of debt cancellation at that time. He helped to devise a campaign called Drop the Debt or Jubilee 2000; a mixture of musicians, faith communities, academics, and activists. The Jubilee 2000 team set up a petition, and it took off like wildfire, becoming the most signed petition at the turn of the millennium, with around 27 million signatures (and at least 25 million of those were by hand since online petitions had yet to take off). They got the music industry behind it. Bono began as a celebrity spokesperson for the campaign but became much more than that — a fellow strategist. Muhammad Ali became an ambassador for it. Even the pope got behind the cause.
The campaign ultimately led to the cancellation of US$110 billion of mainly African debt by 2005. Not only did it spark transformative change at global meetings of the G-7, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, but it also built links with national organizations and campaigns in over 60 countries, which lobbied, campaigned, protested, and raised awareness in their own countries as well.
“A critical transition here,” Drummond explains, “in pursuing such a tremendous collective goal, was switching from the charity or direct aid model of Live Aid and Band Aid to tackling the structural causes of poverty, and poor economic growth — which was the debt crisis.” This was dexterously coupled with using popular cultural assets, or the “entertainment industrial complex,” to connect with large numbers of people and mobilize, incentivize, and excite them.
Timing was another critical factor in the campaign’s overwhelming success. The turn of the millennium was an extraordinary moment in the calendar hotly anticipated worldwide. Jubilee 2000 became a significant action that people were all able to take together around this temporal milestone. It enabled them to go into a new century having gotten rid of some of the hangover legacy issues of the previous one. Off the back of such optimism, the Millennium Development Goals were created, which have now been succeeded by the Sustainable Development Goals.
There is no more first world. There is no more third world. There is one world, and we either live in it together or we fall apart separately. Going solo is no longer an option.
Over the next two decades, first at data.org and then at the ONE Campaign, Drummond worked with partners to combine evidence-based policies and public campaigning to launch a range of powerful anti-poverty campaigns. These included securing historic levels of investment in health and the fight against preventable diseases — helping to reduce the number of people dying from AIDS and malaria by more than a third, and preventing the deaths of 4 million children under the age of 5 every year. The Make Poverty History campaign led to a near doubling of aid in a new partnership with Africa. His team secured big investments in health, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls through ONE’s Poverty is Sexist campaign.
Today, Drummond has set up a new network called Sharing Strategies — collective intelligence for people and planet. Sharing Strategies brings together philanthropists and financial institutions, and explores systems change approaches through Catalyst 2030, which is a global movement of people and organizations committed to attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. A key emphasis is on collaborative systems change. Comprising nongovernmental organizations, social entrepreneurs, intermediaries, investors, and other social change innovators, Catalyst 2030 facilitates the building of meaningful partnerships across regions, sectors, and causes, in order to join in this urgent moment and work toward achieving the SDGs.
For effective systems change, Drummond strongly believes in the pursuit of one vision — to foster smart campaigners, movement builders, and advocates in key countries, which at least for the time being, are still the majority shareholders in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These are the G-7 countries. We must persuade these nations, their citizens, and their leaders, to scale massively public and private investment into global public goods to deliver on our shared development and goals. These investments must be delivered through open government and empower local actors. Drummond believes there is not a single problem we face that we cannot surmount — whether it is climate change, threats to democracy, global corruption, or gender inequality — if we focus our efforts on driving and funding policy advocacy efforts that advance equitable systems change.
Social investors are sometimes wary of getting “too political,” and therefore shy away from advocacy. Drummond firmly believes that: “No one with power and resources can or should opt out of history, or opt out of geography. We’re all in this together, right now. And if you have the ability to fund people who can change policy and legislation for the SDGs and climate action, and you’re not doing it, then you are being far less impactful than you could be. It doesn’t have to be scary. It can be consensual, it can be bipartisan; and it can, and should, emerge from civil discourse.”
When asked about some of the most memorable or profound moments that had an influence on Drummond’s participation in advocacy, he recalls visiting the sites of the genocide in Rwanda as one day seared into his memory, as well as his time driving through the Amazon rainforest where, for a good hour, he saw the rainforest on fire on both sides. “We all have moments that speak deeply to us and make us want to participate in making sure nothing like that ever happens again,” he says.
The causative factors in these crises are, of course, extremely complicated. But one of the key drivers of both was the sense of scarcity — or the lack of opportunity — that stymied a majority of the population. Drummond champions the notion that if we invest fairly and equitably, we create a virtuous cycle that produces a sense of abundance, hope, and opportunity, instead of fear, retribution, or a zero-sum game. He warns that the latter scenario is when populism, extremism, and ultimately horrific acts start to unfold.
That sense of collective human impact is the greatest feeling a human can have. And when you juxtapose that positivity and advocacy with the horror of Rwanda at the time, or Ukraine today, it is knowing that it is up to us to deliver, in order to shift the needle.
On the flip side, Drummond is swift to pinpoint some of the most life-affirming moments that remain with him and build hope in our collective ability to build a better future, such as being in the human chain of 80,000 people around the Group of Eight summit in Birmingham in 1998 or taking his hammer to the Berlin Wall.
“That sense of collective human impact is the greatest feeling a human can have,” he says. “And when you juxtapose that positivity and advocacy with the horror of Rwanda at the time, or Ukraine today, it is knowing that it is up to us to deliver, in order to shift the needle.”
Drummond strongly encourages the social investment community to be ambitious, creative, and to some extent, risk-taking, when it comes to funding policy advocacy efforts. Social investors and philanthropists should lean into using advocacy and policy as a key lever for systems change. In the U.S. it can be done by setting up organizations classified as 501(c)(3) (nonprofit organizations that can educate lawmakers and key decision-makers) and as 501(c)(4) (social welfare groups that are allowed to do more direct lobbying and partisan political activities). From mitigating climate change to mounting a better-coordinated response to a pandemic, pragmatic policy advocacy can have a powerful influence on creating a just and inclusive legal system.
Ultimately, the power of advocacy lies in storytelling, in the ability to move people and get them excited, incentivized, and engaged in a cause. There is a lot to be said for telling a story of abundance, inclusion, and opportunity in investment, so that we get away from a story of austerity, fearmongering, and the fear of “the other” this inherently engenders.