Gates Foundation Annual Report Released!

Yawner, you say? Not if you read the news on this report.

Gates Foundation 2009 annual report

Annual reports are often pretty boring. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s yearly report is seldom a thriller. But this year, some media were able to find controversy to spice things up.

  • The Puget Sound Business Journal’s headline quoted Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes saying the philanthropy’s work is “Not a popularity contest.” The Journal also noted the report, which was to be released Wednesday, was released early due to AP breaking a news embargo.

So what were these flaws, these unpopular activities, that the world’s biggest philanthropy was forced to deal with a day ahead of schedule?

These were complaints the Gates Foundation heard from its grant recipients last spring. In a survey sponsored by the Seattle philanthropy, grantees characterized the foundation as uncommunicative, confusing to work with and not very transparent.

Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes

Raikes took the initiative on this bad report card and responded publicly to the complaints last June. He pledged that by 2013 the foundation and grantees will have stronger partnerships characterized by three things:

  • First, we will understand each others’ roles, goals, and strategies
  • Second, we will have open, two-way communication
  • Third, they will have a clear understanding of our decision-making and grant-making processes

Almost none of this was included in the annual report, with these “flaws” meriting only a single paragraph from Raikes. He just said they were “sobering” and are working on improving in these areas.

Why set 2013 as the deadline, I wonder? Why will it take three years or so for the Gates Foundation to understand its grantees, engage in two-way communication and make their grant-making understandable?

In any case, the foundation’s annual report is actually not a bad read.

It has much more than the requisite financial information and does provide perspective on the Gates Foundation’s workings. And for those who like moving pictures, the philanthropy has provided video interviews of select people like Raikes, other staffers, grant recipients and partners.

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About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.