2022/05/24 |Sarah Hughes-McLure & Emma Mawdsley| From Foreign Aid to Development Finance’: following the Money through the Case of IFFIm’s Vaccine Bonds

Foreign aid is being de-centred as the emblematic funding of the ‘Development’ sector. Debates about the amount, governance and effectiveness of aid are now eclipsed by the surging interest in and energy around broader – and more nebulous – forms of financing for development. This includes impact investing, blended finance, and various ‘innovative’ financial mechanisms. In this seminar, we will first briefly contextualise and analyse this shift. We then turn to a detailed analysis of one specific case study. The International Finance Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm) issues vaccine bonds, and is a widely celebrated example of ‘innovative’ finance in global health and development. IFFIm has played a leading role in developing social bonds and funding global health, securing over $8 billion in donor commitments, and disbursing over $3 billion to date to Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, since its launch in 2006. Adopting a ‘follow the money’ approach, we set out a significant, evidence-based challenge to some of the dominant development claims around innovative development finance more widely, and IFFIm in particular. We find evidence of non-trivial private profit-making, hiding in plain sight, at the expense of beneficiaries and donors. Through advanced critical financial analysis, we reveal precisely who benefits and by how much. Our analysis shows in detail how financialization reduces political control over aid, and the uneven spatial distribution of material rewards and political power. We finish by showing that alternative models for vaccine finance are possible, which are cheaper while still achieving the much vaunted ‘front-loading’ effect of IFFIm.


Sarah Hughes-McLure, University of Cambridge, UK

Sarah Hughes-McLure is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. Her PhD is on development finance in a ‘beyond aid’ era, specifically the role of the private sector, private finance, and ‘innovative’ financing for development. As part of her research on the financialisation of development, Sarah has followed the money through case studies in global health, natural disasters, and finance. More broadly, her research is situated in economic geography and development geography. Sarah is part of an ESRC-funded research project on the for-profit development sector, led by Professor Mawdsley. Before starting her PhD, Sarah was a Consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and studied Economics at Cambridge.

Emma Mawdsley, University of Cambridge, UK

Emma Mawdsley is a Professor of Human Geography at Cambridge University, and the Director of the Margaret Anstee Centre for Global Studies at Newnham College, Cambridge. She works on the politics of global development, with a particular interest in India, the UK, and ‘South-South’ Cooperation. She is currently PI on an ESRC-funded research grant, working with colleagues on the for-profit development sector.

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