President Bill Clinton was in Paris last week to deliver an uplifting message in these difficult economic times.
In a speech (see below for video) to French ministers, diplomats, business leaders and celebrities, he explained how France has completely revolutionized charitable giving for the world through a system which collects contributions so painless many hardly notice. President Clinton was referring to UNITAID, which raises money from a small levy on airline tickets in France and several other countries to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. This "priceless gift" has saved millions of lives, he said. Importantly, it points the way forward to a brighter future for the fight against global poverty where every citizen can make a difference.
According to President Clinton, UNITAID "is a 21st Century gift, an inherently empowering mechanism that can be repeated over and over again in the public sector and through private NGOs, to let people who don't have a lot of money have a huge impact."
I invited President Clinton to speak directly to French decision-makers on their home turf about a success that France was instrumental in creating. After all, UNITAID was conceived by French President Jacques Chirac and Brazilian President Lula. Today, France is UNITAID's largest contributor and the air ticket levy has collected over one billion euros alone in France since it was implemented in 2006.
Under the halls of Luc Besson's Cité du Cinéma in Paris, President Clinton did an incredible job in passing this message, explaining that UNITAID is one of France's most important gifts to the world. In his inimitable fashion, he described how UNITAID "spends the least money to save the most lives." Citing the 90 percent price reductions obtained on key HIV medicines, he saluted UNITAID's global approach to get the most impact out of its investments. To quote the former president: "Even countries not receiving money directly from UNITAID are benefitting from the fact that UNITAID drove down prices."
I also invited President Clinton to France because I am the United Nations Under Secretary-General, in charge of finding new solutions to combat global poverty, so we can reach the Millennium Development Goals and adapt to climate change. A major task of mine since the onset of the financial crisis has been to seek new ways to replace rapidly declining development aid to the world's poorest, called "innovative financing for development." Just recently, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that foreign aid from richest countries shrank by 4 percent in 2012. This continuing drop in foreign aid does not bode well for the poorest countries; despite impressive rates of economic growth in developing countries, half of the planet lives on less than two dollars a day. More foreign aid is needed, not less.
In his speech, President Clinton pointed out that UNITAID offers solutions to fill this gap, by proving that innovative ways to raise funds can work, with negligible impact on those who give. He said UNITAID was a precursor to crowdfunding, which has since seen huge successes for a range of causes, such as after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when millions of Americans gave micro-contributions through mobile phones. According to President Clinton, "UNITAID started all of this -- in a profound way. It was just a way from people to make small contributions and throw them at problems at ways that will have the biggest impact."
If UNITAID proved how the power of numbers could be used to raise more money to combat extreme poverty, then we need to take the next step. Why can't we take microscopic contributions from the activities that most profit from globalization? It can be done with air tickets. Now, in order to prop up declining foreign aid, we need to put in place the same system for financial transactions and other global transactions such as maritime containers, internet and mobile. Just imagine: Companies like Apple, Google pay around only 3 percent in taxes when old industrial giants pay 30 percent and more.
As President Clinton said during his speech, France continues to play a historical role in this effort. In March 2012, President Nicolas Sarkozy passed a law to implement a financial transactions tax (FTT). President François Hollande multiplied this tax by two and today 11 European countries are on the way to implementing an FTT. As of yet, France is the only country to set aside proceeds from the FTT to the fight against global poverty.
It seems like France has some more gifts to share with the world!
Follow Philippe Douste-Blazy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pdousteblazy