BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION
In 1994, the foundation was formed as the William H. Gates Foundation with an initial stock gift of US$94 million. In 1999, the foundation was renamed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After a merger with the Gates Learning Foundation in 2000, Gates gave an additional US$126 million. During the foundation’s following years, funding grew to US$2 billion. On June 15, 2006, Gates announced his plans to transition out of a day-to-day role with Microsoft, effective July 31, 2008, to allow him to devote more time to working with the foundation.
Bill and Melinda Gates, along with the musician Bono, were named by Time as Persons of the Year 2005 for their charitable work. In the case of Bill and Melinda Gates, the work referenced was that of this foundation.
The scale of the foundation and the way it seeks to apply business techniques to giving makes it one of the leaders in the philanthrocapitalis m revolution in global philanthropy, though the foundation itself notes that the philanthropic role has limitations. In 2007 its founders were ranked as the second most generous philanthropists in America.
As Bill and Melinda pledge $10 billion over the next decade for vaccines in the developing world, Time magazine takes a look at what the world’s largest foundation does with it’s $34 billion endowment.
Sokoto State, Nigeria
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds education, agricultural- development and health projects around the world. In a recent grant, the foundation teamed with Rotary International and the British and German governments to help commit $630 million to fighting polio. The Bini Community Health Post, which Gates visited in February, above, is combating the disease in Nigeria, one of the last four countries in the world with a significant polio problem.
Children gather at a National Immunization Day booth to receive flags, whistles and balloons: small rewards in exchange for their bravery in agreeing to get inoculated against polio. This event was sponsored by Rotary International.
Los Baños, Philippines
In the world of agriculture, the foundation has funded organizations like the International Rice Research Institute, which received $31 million in two grants to produce a rice that is more efficient in photosynthesis and resistant to flooding and cold temperatures. These enhanced varieties will allow small farmers — many of whom live on less than $1 a day — to dramatically boost crop yields and lift themselves out of hunger and poverty.
In the fight against AIDS, the foundation, along with the global-health community, estimates that new HIV infections could be cut in half by 2015.
Before the Gateses got involved, malaria — a disease that contributes to 1 million deaths a year — garnered little attention. "We gave a small grant at first, like $30 million," Bill Gates recalls, "and everybody said, ‘Wow! That is the greatest increase in nongovernmental spending in the history of malaria research!’ And I thought, Oh, you are kidding." Since then, the foundation has committed $1.6 billion to fighting the disease.
In 2006, billionaire investor (and Bill Gates buddy) Warren Buffett effectively doubled the foundation’s endowment by pledging $31 billion. Despite its massive wealth, the Foundation remains nimble: all it takes to move billions of dollars out the door is the approval of Bill and Melinda.
Improving the American education system is a primary focus of the foundation’s work. Memphis City Schools, above, are among the beneficiaries of $335 million in grants aimed at improving teacher effectiveness and the fair and reliable measurement thereof, increasing the number of effective teachers and supporting and rewarding those teachers who are increasing student achievement. Ultimately, the foundation is committed to dramatically increasing the number of students who obtain a college or postsecondary degree.
Although the Internet can be enormously useful in accessing health, government and job information, there are billions of people around the world who can never use it. In 2002 the foundation gave a $1 million Access to Learning Award to BibloRed, the public-library network of Bogotá, shown above, to expand its technology services.
How does the foundation know if its work is paying off? As Bill himself notes, "You don’t have customers who beat you up when you get things wrong … you don’t have a stock price that goes up and down to tell you how you’re doing." Indeed, the foundation has been criticized for focusing too much on cutting-edge vaccine research instead of on more readily available tools like mosquito nets, and for providing governments with an excuse to not spend their own money. Though the foundation rejects both of these criticisms, it nevertheless insists on rigorous self-evaluation and goes further than most in revealing its failures and missteps.
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