The Department of Global Health selected Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas as the department Common Book. This is meant to serve as a platform for our community of students, staff, and faculty to highlight important issues that we think impact global health as a discipline. And we felt Winners Take All really challenged us in many ways.
On March 1, Anand Giridharadas spoke to DGH about his book and what we should consider as the University of Washington Department of Global Health. Below is an abridged version of the conversation. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. We encourage you to watch to the entire recording of his conversation with DGH.
Rachel Chapman: Moderator and Adjunct Associate Professor, Global Health
Sumaya Mohamed: Panelist and received her MPH in the Department of Global Health and is currently a doctoral student in medical anthropology at UW
Nolawit Mulugeta: Panelist and is doctoral student in pathobiology
Hilma Nakambale: Panelist and is a doctoral student in DGH
Anand Giridharadas: Author of Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World
Sumaya: Could you reflect on how structural racism, neocolonial attitudes, and dynamics and anti-blackness may show up and function in the market world, and the social change approach it promotes?
Anand: How often in a global public health conversation are we talking about wealth, taxation? Isn't it interesting that we're not talking about it as much as we might be right? And so, what happens is the chance to be helpful through philanthropy is also the chance to become an editor right? An editor of the terms of the common good, right, an editor of the conversation about the conversation right? And so some things are rolled in, and some things are rolled out. So we will talk a lot about, you know. How do we scale $2 malaria nets for a certain country? We may not talk about how that country is currently suing big western banks for debt, relief, and what a difference it would make to the people in that country if there country was not sending back enormous interest payments to London, or New York, every month right and so I’m just interested in the dynamic of silences that that philanthropy buys.
Nolawit: What would you say is a good alternative kind of call to action for young people such as myself who are kind of struggling, seeking ways, seeking more ethical and authentic pathways toward social change or global health? And what ways, do you think the conversations could be shifting towards this kind of true, true, true critique, and away from these like weathering the storm approaches of social entrepreneurship?
Anand: Think about a problem that annoys you, about the world, I mean as public health specialists. You probably have some amount of clarity about, like the problems that motivated you to get into this work and it's probably not that hard fee to think about what that is. But specifically, like what? But what can you not believe is the way it is, and then think about a solution to that problem. That is public, democratic, institutional, and universal, which is to say that solves that problem at the root for everybody, not just for some people, by a few other people with a lot of marketing. What we see around us right now is corporate marketing masquerading as change.
Nolawit: As a follow up, how do we think about being a counter to what is honestly just, real resources that are invested. Gates money is a lot of money, right? So kind of to the little guy which how I feel is how a lot of grad students see themselves as, how do you kind of think about that, he really steep kind of power imbalance that you're facing?
Anand: Well, you know. To quote, to quote AOC, you know they've got money, we've got people, you know, the thing they don't actually have is people. The thing is, they don't actually have is any kind of broad allegiance in the society, and the reason they structure all this giving to enhance their reputations is actually they're actually afraid of the power balance the other way around right.
You think they're very powerful, but they think they're kind of weak in a way, right? They wouldn't have to do all this if they thought they were so strong and kind of impregnable. They're actually very worried. You think, Mark Zuckerberg dropped 400 million to protect the last election, an election that he made dangerous by spreading QAnon bullshit through the through his portals. Do you think he spent 400 million dollars he's a nice guy. That guy is scared of the very power imbalance you talked about. So I'm not sure who's actually on top in the power. They have seized a tremendous amount of power but I think their power is also very fragile and vulnerable, because it depends on you and I, waking up every morning thinking they are good and thinking that they're broadly doing the right thing for the right reason
Hilma: How do we think about working in institutions that work on global problem in the absence of global government, whilst also funded by private foundations who are funded by what you call robot parents, and is there a way for research to enable more global policy to govern these practices? So as institutions of high learning, how do we make sure that these people who are funding global health are and held accountable for the kind of work that they do?
Anand: Universities have essentially allowed themselves to become drive through reputation. Laundromats for very wealthy people. Wealthy people have a surplus of money, obviously, and a deficit of prestige. And universities have surplus of prestige, and never enough money. It's a prestige for money deal. In the extreme case of someone like Jeffrey Epstein, who had a case in Florida where it was basically established that he was a criminal, a pedophile, and he somehow wiggled out, moves to New York, is trying to reestablish himself in society. It's not going well. Society is not accepting him because he's a pedophile. And then he starts doing all this MIT and Harvard giving. They actually create something at Harvard with his money, called the ped center, which is quite remarkable. What was the University selling him? A naming right? I don't think so.
So my suggestion, and this can't be one university. This needs to be a project undertaken across universities to create some standards for when you accept money, when you don't accept money, who are you? Who you accept money from who you don't accept money from. What kinds of things you get in exchange for money versus not what kind of say money buys you versus not right now.