Global Health, Civil Society and Private Sector Stakes: Preserving Civic Space at Risk in Healthcare 

Event overview 

During a hybrid convening held on March 13 by Friends of the Global Fight and the Georgetown University Global Health Institute, members of the private sector and civil society came together to discuss how the two sectors can work together more productively on public health in the face of increasing global challenges for governance. 

At the event, entitled “Global Health, Civil Society and Private Sector Stakes: Preserving Civic Space at Risk in Healthcare,” panelists discussed how restrictions on civil society in numerous countries over the last decade have made this partnership more urgent. Some private sector panelists pointed out that rule of law and broad civic freedoms are essential to a functional business environment and therefore the private sector should work closely with civil society to ensure both sectors thrive. Participants explored how civil society’s active participation in design and implementation of healthcare in low- and middle-income countries is essential to efficacy and equity of access. Companies have an interest in those health outcomes in terms of consumers, employers and communities they engage. For instance, partnership is essential for the successful role out of vaccines and pandemic preparedness. One panelist also noted that the partnership between the private sector and civil society during the AIDS epidemic should be used a template going forward. 

Other panelists pointed out that this partnership should not be transactional. Rather, the private sector should ensure alignment with the values of social justice and human rights, even as governments become more oppressive or less concerned about these issues. Embattled civil society organizations need funding, but all the more, companies have leverage and comparative competencies to offer. 

The panelists also discussed how the private sector should respond to governments that criminalize marginalized groups, such as recent anti-LGBTQI legislation in Uganda and emerging in Ghana. Some pointed out that behind-the-scenes interventions from several corporations acting together sometimes are more effective and safer for civic groups than robust public statements. 

Some civil society panelists said they had seen improvement on private sector engagement, but going forward the two groups need to talk to each other more, scale what is already working and understand each other’s areas of expertise.  

Friends will be releasing a report this summer based on topics, best practices and recommendations coming out of this event.