Saturday, May 05, 2007

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

I have long admired the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their work on global health issues. I remember reading a newspaper article a year or so ago that in essence said, "the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced a $xxx million grant to help fight [tuberculosis?] in the developing world. Great Britain announced a $xx million grant." I remember thinking to myself how funny it was that one individual/family could donate more than an entire country. After recently learning about the Gates Foundation's agricultural grant to IDE, I decided to learn more about the foundation and its medical, agricultural, and other programs. All information was obtained from the foundation's web site on May 5, 2007.

There are two simple values that lie at the core of the foundation’s work:

  • All lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value.
  • To whom much is given, much is expected.

The foundation has 15 Guiding Principles, of which the first five are listed below:

  • This is a family foundation driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family.
  • Philanthropy plays an important but limited role.
  • Science and technology have great potential to improve lives around the world.
  • We are funders and shapers—we rely on others to act and implement.
  • Our focus is clear—and limited—and prioritizes some of the most neglected issues.

Regarding the foundation's "clear and limited focus," it has identified three primary grantmaking areas, listed in order of highest to lowest investment from the Gates Foundation:

  1. Global Health Program: encourage[s] the development of lifesaving medical advances and...help[s] ensure they reach the people who are disproportionately affected. Global health funding is focused on (a) Access to existing vaccines, drugs, and other tools to fight diseases common in developing countries; and (b) Research to develop health solutions that are effective, affordable, and practical. $7.8 billion of Global Health grants had been made through December 31, 2006.
  2. United States Program: reduce[s]...inequities and improve[s] access to opportunities by:
    (a) Significantly increasing the number of students who graduate from high school with the skills needed to succeed in college and work, (b) Improving the lives of at-risk children, youth, and families in Washington state and Greater Portland, Oregon, and (c) Expanding access to information through technology in public libraries that serve low-income and disadvantaged communities. $4.6 billion of United States Program grants had been made through December 31, 2006.
  3. Global Development Program: committed to helping hundreds of millions of families in the developing world emerge from extreme poverty and hunger over the next 10 to 15 years through agricultural development, financial services for the poor, global libraries, and special initiatives. $0.6 billion of Global Development grants had been made through December 31, 2006.

The agricultural grant to which I referred previously was made as part of the Global Development program. No wonder I have heard so much more about the Gates' work in global health than I had about their work in global development -- they've committed 13 times more funds to global health.

As of December 31, 2006, the foundation had a $33 billion endowment, including $1.6 billion from Warren Buffet's first installment of his June 2006 gift. That leaves a lot more grants to be made in the future to some lucky -- and hopefully effective and efficient -- organizations.

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