Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Gates Foundation won’t take a stand on universal health coverage | 

A funny thing happened at the World Bank the other day.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim  gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington,  Thursday, April 10, 2014.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim gestures while speaking at the forum Endpoverty 2030 during the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings at IMF headquarters in Washington, Thursday, April 10, 2014.
AP

The international financial institution devoted to fighting poverty and advancing economic growth in the poorest parts of the world held an event last week, Toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030.

That wasn’t the funny part. What was funny (or, well, funny-strange maybe) was watching the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation work so hard to avoid taking a position on this goal of ensuring all people have access to affordable, basic health care.

As Humanosphere has noted, there’s a lot of enthusiasm around the world today for universal health coverage. Even many of the hard-pressed health and finance ministries of poor and middle-income countries are enthusiastic, largely because a number of analyses and expert studies have shown that getting everyone reliable access to basic health services contributes to long-term economic development, social stability and poverty reduction.

“There’s a consensus out there that universal health coverage is a critical development goal,” said Robert Marten, a global health policy expert for the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading

The biggest global health program you’ve never heard of – NTDs | 

Nigerian woman with long-term effects of the parasitic river blindness
Nigerian woman with long-term effects of the parasitic river blindness
Mike Urban

What if you could treat a poor person in Africa to cure or prevent seven horrible afflictions – river blindness, hookworm, elephantiasis, trachoma, snail fever and two other parasitic worm diseases – for only 50 cents?

Better yet, what if the drug industry could be compelled to give more than a billion of the planet’s poorest people worldwide life-saving and curative drugs for free?

Well, you can and they were.

One of the world’s biggest efforts aimed at fighting the most neglected diseases of poverty has been underway for a few years now. Chances are, you know very little about it – which may be thanks to this massive project getting launched in 2012 with an incredibly boring name, the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Uff da. The global health community desperately needs help with branding.

“It’s actually incredibly exciting,” said Julie Jacobson, a physician and program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I ran into Jacobson, whom I’ve known for many years and who always seems both happy and excited, when we were commuting in opposite directions via bicycle in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood a while ago. We didn’t actually collide, but I did make her stop to see what she was up to. Continue reading

City Council member: Why fighting poverty means fighting for socialism | 

SOCIALISM! COMMUNISM! THREATENING! OH NO SCARY STUFF! ARGHGH!

We’re all familiar with the fear-mongering that goes on when it comes to socialism, communists, and anyone deemed outside the “mainstream” of American politics. The right-wing is fond of calling President Obama a socialist – even as he pushes for a massive, corporation-friendly free-trade agreement – without explaining why that would be a bad thing. Perhaps we can chalk up most of the hysteria against further-left-than-liberal figures to the Cold War.

But it’s 2014. It’s time to move on.

In Seattle, economics professor Kshama Sawant ran on an openly socialist platform against a longtime capitalist, Democratic incumbent in November. And she won.

Today, we explore with Sawant why her campaign was successful, why socialism seems to be gaining momentum, and her analysis of global poverty – including how her views are informed by her upbringing in India, where she says extreme poverty was rampant right alongside staggering wealth. Why was one person rich, and someone living next door destitute? Like many in the development sector, “I was obsessed with this question,” Sawant says. But it drew her to socialism and politics, not aid.

And no discussion of the humanitarian industry is complete without a mention of the world’s largest philanthropic institution, based here in Seattle: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While Sawant has some strong words for Gates, there’s also some common ground between this socialist and the billionaire on the question of what kind of aid works. Tune in!

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Humanosphere’s annual letter to Bill and Melinda Gates | 

Today, Bill Gates, with assistance from Melinda, issued his annual letter and the theme for 2014 was myth-busting. We will explore those myths a bit.

As was reported first in the Wall Street Journal, which for some reason is annually privileged to reveal the contents of Bill’s letter in advance of other media, the Gateses this year set out to debunk three ideas they believe threaten progress:

  1. Poor nations are doomed to stay poor.
  2. Foreign aid is a big waste.
  3. Saving lives leads to over-population.

Humanosphere always enjoys reading, and reporting on, Bill’s yearly ruminations – if for no other reason than because the Gates Foundation has come to drive much of the narrative around the many efforts aimed at reducing poverty, diseases of poverty and inequity. The message this year?

Things are getting better. Stop being so negative. Continue reading

Biotech and academic leader selected as CEO for Gates Foundation | 

Susan Desmond-Hellman
Susan Desmond-Hellman

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today that it has selected Susan Desmond-Hellman, currently chancellor of the University of California San Francisco, to serve as chief executive officer after Jeff Raikes – the former Microsoft exec who announced in September he’d be stepping down after five years of service.

“We chose Sue because of her scientific knowledge and deep technical expertise on the foundation’s issues, as well as the organizational and leadership skills required to lead a large, growing and dynamic global organization. Sue shares our commitment and passion to create a more equitable world,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the foundation.

Desmond-Hellman, a physician and oncologist, will take the helm of the world’s largest philanthropy May 1, 2014. She will be the first non-Microsoft executive to serve as CEO for the Gates Foundation, which before Raikes was run by Patty Stonesifer. Continue reading

For World Toilet Day Gates Foundation motto: Every shit has value | 

Ugandans transport a Swiss-made 'diversion' toilet - one of the Gates Foundation's winners in its re-inventing the toilet competition
Ugandans transport a Swiss-made ‘diversion’ toilet – one of the Gates Foundation’s winners in its re-inventing the toilet competition
Eawag

It’s World Toilet Day so the world is awash with potty humor, bizarre videos and otherwise earnest organizations giddily celebrating the use of obscenity or fart jokes in support of saving lives.

This is the first official World Toilet Day, at least insofar as the United Nations is concerned. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said today, the goal is to draw attention to the fact that 2.5 billion people are endangered by lack of safe sanitation – an inequity that contributes to many water-borne illnesses and deaths around the world. Diarrhea, often caused by poor sanitation, kills some 800,000 annually, for example.

And it’s an economic burden as well: The World Bank estimates poor sanitation costs countries some $260 billion a year in lost productivity.

So, yes, shit is a serious global problem. Continue reading

Is the ‘golden age of philanthropy’ a sign of good times or bad? | 

CBS News’ 60 Minutes recently did a piece featuring Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffett and a select group of other billionaires, describing the motivation behind a philanthropic initiative called The Giving Pledge.

Charlie Rose hosted the chat, titled The Giving Pledge: A New Club for Billionaires, briefly noting at the opening that the wealthiest 400 Americans hold as much wealth as half of all Americans living at the bottom of the wealth scale. (It’s actually much worse than that.) Said Rose:

“While resentment toward the super-rich grows, there may be a silver lining taking shape. It turns out a lot of those rich people are giving staggering sums of money away in what is being called a golden age of philanthropy.”

Silver lining for the golden age. Nice. But the 60 Minutes piece is perhaps more disturbing for what it leaves out – by glossing over the rising tide (or dark storm clouds, to extend Rose’s mixed metaphor) of inequality and by portraying public concern with this trend as resentment of the rich.

This isn’t about envy. It’s about equity and many see the rise of super-philanthropy as the flip side of astonishing new levels of inequality that deserve serious scrutiny. Continue reading

The incredible shrinking Gates Foundation annual report | 

Warren Buffett, Melinda and Bill Gates
Warren Buffett, Melinda and Bill Gates
Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has just released its 2012 annual report and it’s the shortest one yet, at seven pages.

Humanosphere has noted before this trend of the Gates Foundation’s shrinking annual report, coming on the heels of last week’s announcement that the philanthropy scored ‘very poor‘ when ranked by the 2013 Aid Transparency Index.

Chris Williams, press secretary for the Gates Foundation, said reducing the length of the annual report is a trend taken by most other foundations since much of the information people may seek – more detailed financial data, specifics on projects and so on – is more readily accessible on the website. Williams said the Gates Foundation recognizes the need for improved transparency, is working on it and that the low ranking in the 2013 ATI report is partly due to the apples-and-oranges difficulty of comparing disclosure by a private philanthropy with mostly government agencies.

“A private foundation has much different legal disclosure requirements than, say, USAID,” Williams said. Continue reading