Global Fund and Gavi to become roommates in cost-saving drive

An aerial view of the city of Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by: Jean-Marc Ferré / United Nations / CC BY-NC-ND

GENEVA — Major global health players are gearing up to change where and how they work, with the launch of a new Health Campus, due to open in Geneva in March 2018.

The campus will bring together the Global Fund, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Unitaid and other health organizations already based in the city with the twin goals of fostering synergies and reducing costs.

“The Health Campus embodies our 21st century approach. It is modern, cost effective and designed to foster collaboration, both within the Global Fund and with several of our partners,” the Global Fund’s head of communications, Seth Faison, told Devex.

Through 2018, a total of 1,300 staff will relocate to the “Jardin des Nations” area of the city, a few blocks away from the World Health Organization and nearby development and humanitarian organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Global Fund will move its headquarters to the campus in March, and Gavi is expected to follow in July.

The campus was conceived by the Swiss mission to the United Nations in 2008 to serve as a center for global health in Geneva. Construction began in 2015 on land provided by the canton, or regional authority, with the 28,000 square meter building financed by Credit Suisse, which will lease it to the organizations. 

Earlier this year, the Global Fund and Gavi agreed on an equal partnership in the campus.

“Both organizations have worked together to oversee the project, align on objectives and agree on the main features of the building,” managing director of public engagement and information services at Gavi, Pascal Barollier, told Devex.

Value for money

A key driver of the project has been value for money. According to Faison, the Health Campus represents an overall investment of about $28 million for the Global Fund, but will allow it to reduce spending by $57 million over the 10-year lease period compared with the running costs of its existing building. The organization expects to break even on its investment in under five years.

“By sharing a number of [operational, support and building] services and facilities, all organizations expect to obtain better value for money,” said Faison.

Deploying resources more effectively is a priority for the Global Fund. In November, the board reaffirmed that total operating expenses over the 2017-2019 period would remain within $900 million, and required the Secretariat to “undertake a comprehensive review” of the operating expense budget for 2019.

Gavi’s financial estimates published earlier this year also envision a 4.8-year payback period, with a $7.7 million up-front investment in the campus yielding $1.6 million of savings per year.

The organization, which will bear a little over a quarter of the costs of the office space, predicted net savings of $8 million — or 18 percent — over 10 years.

Sharing between the organizations will go beyond desks and chairs, though. Recently, the Global Fund and Gavi set out to engage a common ombudsman. Asked about additional synergies, Faison said they are working together to systematically assess opportunities based on benefit and cost, while recognizing the different models of each organization.

“Additional operational efficiencies are being explored, beyond building costs, through closer collaboration with Gavi. A working group has also been established to pursue sponsorship and investment opportunities with the private sector,” he said.

Faison noted that the co-locating organizations already work closely together to enhance programmatic effectiveness. “Being together will enable even closer collaboration, the sharing of best practices and the better coordination of programmatic activity. This is the essence of the ‘campus’ spirit,” he said.

Barollier pointed out that Gavi and the Global Fund collaborate in the vast majority of Gavi-supported countries, and that they are both currently partnering with Unitaid to fund the first phase of the RTS,S malaria vaccine pilot to be rolled out in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in 2018.

Innovative working styles

Beyond value for money, the campus is expected to bring about innovative working styles. “The new building will not only change where we work, but how we work,” said Faison.

The workspace is designed an open-plan environment, and movement between its seven working floors will be encouraged across all organizations as part of the campus culture, he said. Four floors will accommodate 871 work stations for the Global Fund and for consultants; two will be for Gavi’s staff of almost 300; and another will be shared by other organizations, yet to be confirmed.

The shared facilities on the upper and lower floors, which include a conference hall hosting up to 600 people, meeting spaces and catering facilities, will also be key to the “campus spirit.”

“Informal collaborative spaces will encourage informal interactions and meetings,” and facilitate the exchange of expertise across different organisations, said Barollier.

As for Unitaid, it is planning to move to the campus towards the end of 2018, and is “currently engaged in negotiations to make this possible,” head of communications Andrew Hurst told Devex.

He also welcomed “the great opportunity it offers all organizations that will be accommodated there to forge strong connections and work synergistically in the pursuit of global health goals.” Unitaid catalyzes access to innovative health solutions, and the Global Fund is one of its main scale-up partners.

Although the Global Fund’s Office of the Inspector General — which works to safeguard the investments, reputation, and sustainability of the Global Fund — will also move to the campus, Faison said its independence would be safeguarded. The OIG reports directly to the board through its Audit and Ethics Committee, and currently resides in a separate building to the Secretariat.

On the campus, it will occupy its own wing, and have its own access and security arrangements, Faison said. “The move will have no impact on its authority, scope of work, and terms of reference,” he added.

Transfer to the campus will come as the various organizations usher in new phases: The Global Fund recently appointed Peter Sands as its new executive director, while Gavi reappointed its chair and chief executive officer earlier this year.

As for Unitaid, it is unfolding its strategic plan for 2017-2021, which holds partnerships and integrated approaches to global health at its center.

New leaderships, new strategies, and a new location offer the potential for the campus to become an emerging node of global health governance.

“The vision is for the global Health Campus to be a place that unlocks the collective potential of our distinctive missions and inspires collaboration and innovation, so that we can deliver greater impact for the people we serve,” said Faison.

Update, Dec. 18: This story was amended to clarify that Gavi reappointed its chair and CEO earlier this year

About the author

  • Gloria Pallares

    Gloria Pallares is a journalist reporting on sustainable development, global health and humanitarian aid from Africa and Europe. Her work has appeared in a range of publications including El Pais, Forbes, CIFOR’s Forest News and the leading media outlets in Spain via the multimedia newswire Europa Press.