Dr. Malcolm Potts, Bixby Professor of Population and Family Planning, had the opportunity to attend the London Summit on Family Planning on July 11, 2012. In the following report he shares his thoughts:
“It is a difficult task, but it is urgent. I am optimistic because we are here together. And I am optimistic because hundreds of millions of women desperately want to make a better life for themselves and their children. If we listen to them, I know we will succeed.”
These were the words that Melinda Gates used to introduce the London Summit on Family Planning on July 11, 2012. It was an explicit and successful attempt to put family planning back on the international agenda. The overall goal is to make family planning accessible to 120 million women with unmet need by 2020.
The driving force in the UK parliament was Andrew Mitchell, the minister for overseas development. He suggested the Summit meeting to Melinda Gates. The UK prime minister, David Cameron, gave a stunning speech and received a standing ovation for what was probably the first speech made about family planning by any Western leader. The UK government pledged to put in £1 billion over the next 8 years. Australia and Germany also pledged to double their investment in family planning. It has taken 20 years to get family planning and population back on the international agenda.
The London Summit was well covered by the European press but little or no direct mention in the US. However, the Los Angeles Times ran five days of excellent articles on Population. The Lancet came out yesterday with an issue on Family Planning. Martha Campbell and I had been invited by Bert Peterson to the planning meeting on this issue last year at UNC – and we did some of the ghost writing of two of the papers and statements. Bert went out of his way to say the whole idea of a special issue had started when he attended the Bixby Forum in 2009.
So in some real way – although impossible to measure accurately – I think the Bixby Center and Venture Strategies played a genuine role in getting the Summit moving, through consistent interest and commitment to getting family planning back on the international agenda for 20 years, particularly when almost everyone else was silent on the topic. Certainly over 20 years, we have been some of the very few people keeping the focus on voluntary family planning and population and – along with Melinda Gates – we found the London Summit an exciting meeting.
At the end of the meeting Melinda also said “What we are doing is an enormous undertaking . . . it is a difficult task but it is absolutely urgent.” But the real work of turning the Summit budget commitments into reality starts now. At the Bixby Center, we do have an opportunity to contribute to making this meeting a genuine turning point in the international arena.
More information on the Summit can be found here.