Simon Bishop

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

SB: I am currently working at the heart of a team establishing the first global entity to tackle Indoor Air Pollution (IAP), the harmful smoke from 3 billion people cooking every day on primitive traditional cookstoves. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a $250m public-private-partnership designed to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean cooking solutions, was launched by Hillary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) meeting in September 2010.

I am currently seconded from Shell Foundation to the Alliance’s Secretariat, which is based at the United Nations Foundation in Washington D.C. I am heavily involved in everything required to create a new global health-environment organisation, including: a 10-year strategic plan, governance, staffing, fundraising and stakeholder engagement. I am also coordinating a sector-wide consultation process involving 400 global experts across nine Working Groups, covering topics as diverse as Health Research, Carbon Finance and Technology; the first time the global stove community has been convened with the aim of identifying what exactly it is going to take to create a thriving global market for clean cooking solutions.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

SB: The potential to make a big positive difference. IAP has historically received limited attention on the global stage, largely for sensible reasons like the fact that the most viable solution – cleaner stoves that significantly reduce fuel use and emissions – has only been partially effective. But technological breakthroughs in stove design, combined with the potential for carbon revenues (cleaner stoves reduce CO2 emissions) that can dramatically lower the $15-100 price tag, means we should be able to sustainably reach hundreds of millions more homes in coming years. It is exciting to think we could reduce the impact of an issue that blights the lives of half the world’s population every day and contributes to climate change. We have a 3-5 year ‘moment’ and we need to grab it.

BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?

SB: Managing expectations. A year ago the Alliance was an idea on a piece of paper. Five months later we had raised $64m and convinced Hillary Clinton to launch the Alliance at CGI. This was fantastic but it also raised expectations. Any new organisation takes time to establish the basics – strategic plans, governance, staffing etc. When it is an international Alliance spanning the private, NGO, academic and government sectors it is even harder. But we are getting there and we have achieved an enormous amount in a year.

BFP: What advice can you give others who want to implement similar initiatives?

SB: Keep an eye out for stars-aligning in whichever field you work in. A whole range of stars lined up for us, some out of luck, some through us nudging them into position. You will need to be persistent and there is much to be said for identifying the players you need and then working your way around, nudging each partner inch by inch above the parapet. We had plenty of skeptical voices but having worked away behind the scenes, one day all of these organisations found themselves above the parapet and staring each other in the eye. This produced a combination of confidence to commit – and a feeling of shame if they did not. Once this happened things progressed very quickly.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

SB: I saw the boss of the Shell Foundation on Newsnight in 2005 arguing that while doubling aid was good news it was not going to make poverty history. He argued we needed to get more business thinking and ideas involved in international development to find sustainable, financially-viable solutions to development challenges because they are too big; there is never going to be enough aid to go around. This application of business-thinking to development has since been termed ‘venture philanthropy’ or ‘philanthrocapitalism’ but back then he was almost a lone voice. I had worked in international development at the start of my career but walked away feeling much of it was bureaucratic, inefficient and fundamentally not reducing poverty. I had never come across the idea of applying business ideas to poverty. What a great idea! So I called him up the day after I had seen him on Newsnight and harassed him for a job. It took six months of harassment but I got one in the end. In short: Work out what you are passionate about, find out who does it – then go hassle them for a job.

BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?

SB: Business Fights Poverty is a fabulous entity. It brings together like-minded people and in a world where we are bombarded with information, provides the most relevant stuff in an easy to use platform. I am a big fan.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Simon BIshop for taking the time to do this interview.

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