Interview with Jonathan Glennie, co-founder of Global Nation

06 Dec 2023

Ahead of the #ShiftThePower Global Summit in Bogotá, the GFCF spoke to some friends and allies to capture their views of where the #ShiftThePower movement has got to, how the landscape has changed in recent years, and what the movement should focus on now. See all interviews here.


GFCF: Where are we with the Global Public Investment (GPI) concept – and how does it fit in with efforts to #ShiftThePower?

Jonathan Glennie (JG): GPI began with the intention of changing the whole global system – and it still has that ambition. But funders and advocates of change are after what is achievable now rather than what is world changing in the future. So, we have started to focus applying GPI principles to particular funds. For instance, I am working with the Colombian government to develop a strategy for introducing GPI principles into Colombia’s aid strategy. We are working with the Global Fund, The Green Climate Fund, CEPI (vaccine development fund), The World Bank’s Pandemic Fund and others. We are working with these organizations to see how we to put GPI into practice.

The urgency to start putting this into practice is because we have suddenly got genuine interest in the GPI model. We are not like some tax reform movement that has been around for 20 years and has answers to all the questions that people ask. People are desperate for solutions and not so desperate for difficult questions, which is totally understandable.

Within the civil society and communities space, we get asked how GPI fits in with shifting the power. The answer is that right now it’s about shifting the power at government level North-South, allowing Southern governments to take more control and ownership of the global financial system, particularly when it comes to publicly funded development aid money.

And I know that’s not good enough for a lot of people who think we should be focusing on civil society and communities – and I massively supportive of all that work. But the work the GPI movement is doing is more classically at the geopolitical level, trying to reform the current international financing system which is managed by Northern countries of the West. And we need to change the system so all countries are involved in deciding how international public money is spent.

The way that you do this – and this is insight of global public investment initiative – is that you try to shift from a donor-recipient vertical model to a kind of circular model, in which all contribute and – more provocatively – possibly all benefit.

Some people have pushed back on that and say that the way you get buy in for spending on aid is to make people think they are being generous and nice, rather than saying that everyone benefits. But I think this view is shifting because of the polycrisis, post pandemic, the Ukraine war and escalating climate impact.


GFCF: Where does the GPI model come from and how has it evolved?

JG: The GPI model is in some ways inspired by the EU, and to some extent the AU. This model is also used within regional structures and within federalist nations. In the case of the EU, you have poorer countries and that are not just receiving money, they’re putting money into the Brussels pot. Ultimately, they are net recipients and they get much more back than they pay in. And richer countries like Germany are also recipients but are net contributors.

So the question becomes why construct this system whereby countries are putting money in but receiving it back again? Why wouldn’t Germany just say: ‘well, we’re putting in 5 billion, we’re receiving back 500 million, so let’s just put in 4.5 billion and spend the 500 million ourselves’? Why set up this structure?

The answer is that it’s not just about the quantity of money – it’s also about the quality. In the case of constructing the EU, the quality of the EU money mattered, it built the idea of mutuality. Even for the poorer countries, the case for this model is not that obvious. Why shouldn’t they not contribute and just receive? Well, the answer is because by contributing you’re buying a seat at the table. In the EU, as a paying member you sit in Brussels talking about how this money should be spent.

In the case of GPI, no-one is suggesting we have a single global pot of money, as there is in Brussels. But the analogy is there: you can set up a mutual model with a fair share contribution system, whereby even some parts of the wealthy countries receive money back, which is mostly for show.

This is how they developed the EU in the 1970s. It wasn’t like the richer countries needed the money, it was done because of the goal to build a community and to demonstrate to countries that by putting in money that they were getting something out of it. With GPI, we see this kind of mutual model as a way of shifting power.


GFCF: Where are we at with the #ShiftThePower movement – and what does it need to do now?

JG: For me, the #ShiftThePower movement is an amazing opportunity. However, I feel that we need to have a better understanding of power. My sense is that among donors and INGOs, shifting the power is discussed and recognized, that’s not enough to actually make it happen.  There’s no particular pressure on the major development agencies and INGOs to actually shift power, although there’s plenty of opportunity to go to conferences and discuss it.

We all know that power is not something that people give up voluntarily, you have to bring real pressure to bear. I feel like that’s the next stage for the movement.

The #ShiftThePower movement has been more focused at the community, local and sub national level. What GPI brings to the movement is that it says: ‘look, you can’t avoid fitting in with the big, international money. Ultimately, we do have to link the big international money with small community money and discuss how that will work’.

The question is how we build institutions that take into account of power imbalances and make the system as good as we can. Within nation states over the last 200 years, within the international sphere, bullying, inequality, power are present everywhere. Can we somehow eliminate that in our generation? We need to build the institutions and laws that mitigate that.

I think we can set up new institutions that enable voice and ownership more. We need a new system in which the UN increasingly recognizes civil society as legitimate voices that need to be heard. That’s what we’re trying to do with GPI. We’ve still got a long way to go.

A big strategic question is you’ve got ODA, you’ve got the World Bank so do we try to tear them down? I don’t think that’s going to happen. We should try to build things that are better and more appropriate for the 21st century and when they gradually obtain more power and influence then the existing system will change. With GPI, we are not going to go from A-Z in one go – we are going to go from A to C to D and develop gradually.


Jonathan Glennie is a writer, campaigner and consultant on human rights, international cooperation, sustainable development and poverty. His work looks in particular at the changing nature of international cooperation as dominant paradigms and global economic relationships evolve. He has held senior positions in several international organizations, including Save the Children, Christian Aid and Ipsos. He has published two books on aid and cooperation (The trouble with aid: why less could mean more for Africa and Aid, growth and poverty with Andy Sumner) and helped set up The Guardian‘s Global Development website, for which he was a regular columnist. As a consultant, he has worked with governments, international agencies and civil society organizations as they renew their strategies for a new era. His book The Future of Aid: Global Public Investment, was published by Routledge in November 2020. He is currently co-founder of a think tank called Global Nation, along with Hassan Damluji, working on a new approach to international cooperation. He is also a member of the steering committee of the Global Public Investment Network. He lives with his family in Colombia.

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