Tom Hart: Why the ONE Campaign supports Power Africa U.S. Executive Director Tom Hart. Photo by: ONE Campaign

The ONE Campaign is one of the most successful advocacy groups on social media, and for years, its advocacy focused on broad goals — the fight against hunger and AIDS, for instance.

Over the past few years, though, the nonprofit, co-founded by U2 frontman Bono, has been picking more specific development causes. The newest one dovetails with Power Africa, a new initiative by U.S. President Barack Obama to electrify Africa.

Devex spoke with U.S. Executive Director Tom Hart about ONE’s evolving priorities and strategies on the fringes of a recent meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington to discuss the Electrify Africa Act, legislation introduced in the House of Representatives that, if enacted, would help the U.S. government and its corporate partners deliver electricity to Africans.

Does the ONE Campaign’s engagement in energy issues signal a departure in its advocacy strategy?

I wouldn’t say it’s a shift in our strategy. Issues of economic growth and prosperity, and how those are key drivers of defeating extreme poverty, have always been part of our DNA. But we also try to create and leap on opportunities. There’s an opportunity right now to work on energy in Africa that we hadn’t sensed before … We feel there’s a great opportunity to drive forward on energy.

Energy, we’ve come to realize, touches on our core agenda, from people dying prematurely from indoor smoke inhalation because their cooking stoves are burning kerosene for light at night, to not being able to irrigate crops, food spoiling, agricultural impacts to education to economic growth and business.

I think it’s an emerging realization for ONE, but also for the development community, and clearly President [Obama] is realizing this too: The lack of energy makes every everything else we try to do, in terms of human dignity and development, harder.

Are you going to mainstream energy within ONE’s global advocacy? How would this change ONE’s staffing and operation?

This is a U.S.-focused initiative for us at the moment. We’re optimistic that if we can start making some headway here in the United States, there will be opportunities to expand that conversation to our partners in other capitals, but right now, it’s a partnership between our U.S. branch and our Africa branch, where we are really trying to be responsive to what they’re calling for.

They have “beaten” it into us, and now we’ve finally realized that this is such a major constraint on growth, health, education and agriculture that [we’re asking ourselves]: What can we do?

One of the remarkable things about this is we can do something potentially transformative, in a bipartisan way, at no cost to the [U.S.] taxpayers. The way this bill works, and the way OPIC is structured, is that it utilizes lines of credit — it doesn’t ask for more appropriations, so in a fiscally tough time, I think we’re hitting a real sweet spot.

Is that innovative financing scheme maybe a model for other areas?

I do think it’s a model. It doesn’t apply everywhere, I don’t see [how] it can apply easily to the fight against HIV/AIDS, but you can see it in terms of agriculture, and other [areas] where you can leverage private sector investment. I think it’s a model that needs to be exported elsewhere.

There are some authorities the administration needs. OPIC’s own authorization needs to be extended and some tweaks [are needed] to its model so it can do more energy in Africa.

One of the reasons PEPFAR has such broad political support and continued funding in Washington, D.C., even across different administrations, is it was a presidential initiative built on top of broad partisan congressional support. We believe this has exactly the same elements.

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About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.