How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a Global Health Mecca

The Washington Global Health Alliance and the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has published a new report describing our region’s growing global health industry. Called the 2011 Global Health Strategic Mapping and Economic Opportunity Portfolio, the report identifies local organizations working in global health, the number of jobs, types of projects overseas and business opportunities. Some key findings:

  • Respondent’s organizations have 2,503 projects and initiatives in 156 countries.
  • In Washington, 2,979 people work in global health. Outside of the state, these 59 organizations support an additional 17,275 employees.
  • Washington has particular expertise in infectious & chronic disease and developing technologies & devices.
  • Washington global health organizations surveyed collaborate with 1,574 partners, located in 111 countries across the world.

UW Geography Professor Matt Sparke has received recent press and  blogosphere attention with his essay on how Seattle’s reincarnation as a global health epicenter relates to its previous reputation as a center for the global justice movement after the anti-WTO protests of 1999:

Many people at the time thought the 1999 WTO protests marked a significant turning point, against the neo-liberal agenda in globalization. The ‘Spirit of Seattle’ became the rallying cry for those who opposed the market fundamentalism mindset of the time.

But, today, another global Seattle being built, says Sparke. Neither the promoters of market competition nor the collaborative proponents of global justice have gone away, but in the aftermath of their now-famous standoff, a third and arguably “curative” rethinking of the city is taking shape: a re-visioning of Seattle as a world center of global health philanthropy and other private-sector treatments for the mismatch between global markets and global justice.

As cited in the influential global health blog Humanosphere, Sparke argues that “The Gates Foundation is basically addressing the same global challenges that the protesters were. But they are doing it in a way that’s much more comfortable with and friendly to the traditional neo-liberal market-based approach.” In his chapter on “Global Geographies” in the department’s recent publication, Seattle Geographies, Sparke also warns of the “commodified” and “corporatized” vision of global health, “taking us back to the age-old competitive concern about promoting Seattle as a global health market leader”:

The co-optation of global health for selling the city in the old game of global boosterism will seem for many a bitter pill to swallow. But if the historical geography of Seattle’s ongoing remaking as a global city tells us anything, it is that the definition of civic citizenship is always in flux, always being contested, and always, therefore, up for grabs….Global soul is not always for sale, and this city reminds us that there is going to be a battle for it–an ongoing Battle of Seattle over the meaning of world class.

How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a global health epicenter | Humanosphere.

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