Forbes champions philanthropists and markets, then helps Liberia | 

Forbes, the news source for all things wealth, released its first ever list of fifty biggest givers in the US. Bill and Melinda Gates top the list  after giving away $1.9 billion in 2012. They are followed by Gates Foundation supporter Warren Buffett, George Soros, Mark Zukerberg and Walmart owners, the Walton family.

Click to use interactive list.

It is a straight list of how much money individuals or families give away each year. Included in the numbers is the percentage of net worth that was given away by the top fifty.  Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest rank number thirty-seven by giving away $44.5 million, nearly nine percent of their total wealth. Larry Ellison ranks just a tad higher, but he gave away only 0.1% of his $43.1 billion net worth.

One of the features is an interview with Bill Gates and Bono. Lane hosted a discussion between the two at the Forbes 400 Philanthropy Summit. There he discussed how the two initially met, Bono’s self-declared ‘factivist’ streak and how Gates is using numbers to change US education.

It was a representative conversation for the totality of the coverage by Forbes on philanthropy. Market-based ideas were touted with no information to back them or historical context. Important people were profiled without a single question about the efficacy of their work and the tired dynamic of the US helping Africa continued. Continue reading

Philanthrocapitalists propose a Social Progress Index | 

Metrics Mania
Metrics Mania
Flicky, Beto Ruis Alonso

Measurement, in case you didn’t know it, is the new black for the aid and development community.

It’s true that innovation, as a buzzword anyway, hasn’t gone out of fashion yet and social entrepreneurship is still hot – despite the fact that few seem able to define it.  But measurement is definitely this year’s favored wrap for the hip humanitarian.

Bill Gates’ annual letter this year was all about the need for better metrics and data in the fight against poverty and inequity. Bono, dutifully following suit at a recent TED talk, said he is actually sexually excited by data now and considers himself less just an anti-poverty activist and more of a factivist.

Measurement is it, fo shizzle! Nobody who wants to be anybody in fighting poverty and injustice talks about doing anything anymore if it can’t be measured.

Last week, at the Skoll World Forum in London, came more evidence of this trend. The Skoll Foundation and their gathering of social entrepreneurs helped launch yet another humanitarian yardstick – the Social Progress Index.

And who could argue against such a thing? Who wouldn’t want to be able to quantify the impact of an aid or development project?

Answer: Nobody

The only problem is that it’s not that easy to actually measure this stuff – equality, opportunity, security, happiness and well-being.

“These are tough concepts to measure,” said Michael Green, a renowned economist in London who with Matthew Bishop, a journalist at the Economist magazine, is one of the leading proponents of philanthrocapitalism (which, like social enterprise, I also think is ill-defined … but that’s another story).

“We need a new way to measure social progress that is independent of economic indicators,” said Green, who with Bishop is proposing just such a new measurement tool with this new Social Progress Index. It’s still just an idea to test out, he said, but we’re clearly in need of a better yardstick for aid and development. Continue reading

Bono says Yes We Can end extreme poverty while UN reports Why We Might Not | 

Flickr, Phil Romans

Bono loves data and said so in his February TED talk, which was recently released in video. He says the promise of ending extreme poverty turns him on.

“If the trajectory continues we get to the ‘zero zone.’ For number crunchers like us, that is the erogenous zone,” says Bono. “And it’s fair to say, by now, that I am sexually aroused by the collating of data.”

Extreme poverty has been halved from 43% of the world in 1990 to 21% by 2000. The current trends show that extreme poverty could end by 2030, say the World Bank, ONE and CGD.

However, the most recent data (aka UNDP’s Human Development Report (HDR) 2013) suggests that ending extreme poverty will get harder if we don’t take more action:

“Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action,” says the report. Continue reading

Wordy word AIDS Day | 

Flickr, Pink Sherbet Photography

No, that’s not a typo.

I’ve decided to mark this 30th anniversary of the recognized beginning of the pandemic as Wordy AIDS Day rather than use its official name, World AIDS Day, because most of what the international community is doing is saying they want to continue the fight against AIDS even as they retreat.

As Sarah Boseley of The Guardian writes, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria is threatening to ‘collapse’ thanks to governments reneging on their promised donations. The bottom line here is that there is insufficient funding to meet the existing challenge while politicians like Sec. of State Hillary Clinton proclaim we are on the verge of an “AIDS-free generation.” Says Boseley:

If this were not so deadly serious it would be absurd. As Clinton declares the end of AIDS is nigh with one massive last push, the donor governments, mostly in Europe, sit on their wallets. HIV/AIDS has gone out of favour.

It needs to be said that there has been progress, with a remarkable scale-up in getting people on treatment (about 40 percent of those who need the drugs in Africa) and 20-25 percent reductions in mortality.

Recent scientific studies have shown that getting people on anti-HIV drugs prevents transmission of the virus so it is possible, in theory anyway, to halt the pandemic by getting everyone infected on treatment.

Yet even as we may be at a beneficial ‘tipping point’ in the fight against AIDS, the world community’s commitment to the fight is flagging. Funding for the global fight against HIV/AIDS dropped by 10 percent last year. IRIN called it a Deadly Funding Crisis.

Two old-time warriors in the fight ask, on CNN, if what we should be celebrating is Another 30 Years of AIDS?

One of the presumed bright spots in this gloomy landscape was celebrated today with President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. plans to “win this fight’ and has increased its global commitment to get anti-HIV drugs to two million more people by 2013.

Obama’s announcement was webcast by the ONE Campaign with commentary from a slew of other bigwigs like Bono, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Obama Administration’s new commitment to the global fight will be good news if it actually happens. Little noticed was the fine print that said this would be accomplished not by donating more money but by “increasing efficiency.” Only the domestic HIV/AIDS needs got actual new money, $50 million.

Here are some other worthy links for this day, Wordy AIDS Day:

Alanna Shaikh at UN Dispatch: The End of the Beginning of the End of AIDS?

ONE’s Erin Hohlfelder: Act V, The End of AIDS

George W Bush in Wall Street Journal: No Retreat in the Fight Against AIDS

NPR: What a lack of funding could mean for Africa

The Independent: Victory is in sight but cuts in funding could spoil it all

Simon Bland of Global Fund: Yes, we’re alive but progress in peril

Bono uses the F word | 

Bono, U2′s lead singer and perhaps the world’s leading (or at least most celebrated) advocate in the fight against global poverty, has been known to use the F word on occasion.

Here, in this post for the ONE campaign (which Bono co-founded as a grassroots lobbying campaign to urge governments to fund the fight on poverty), he says another F word should be even more offensive.


Says Bono:

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa is nothing short of a humanitarian catastrophe, but it is getting less attention than the latest Hollywood break-ups and make-ups.

What makes this so offensive, the rock star writes, is that famines are man-made. Droughts, crop failure and so on may have natural causes, Bono notes, but there is no reason anyone should starve to death in the 21st Century. There is enough food on the planet to feed everyone.

Here’s Bono and some of his well-known friends discussing the even-more-offensive F word:

Growing the ONE Campaign in Seattle | 

What happens when you mix a world-famous rock band, a couple of billionaire philanthropists with millions of people around the world willing to hit the streets, swarm social media sites and lobby politicians to do the right thing?

You get the ONE Campaign.

ONE Campaign Seattle

Members of ONE on the streets of Seattle, taking names and fighting poverty

Earlier this week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others celebrated a big victory in the effort to combat one of the world’s greatest inequities — millions of child deaths in poor countries every year due to vaccine-preventable diseases like pneumonia and severe diarrhea.

An initiative originally launched a decade ago out of Seattle by the Gates Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, GAVI, received $4.3 billion from governments and donors to expand its mission of vaccinating children in poor communities.

This was more than was requested ($3.7 billion) and translates into vaccinating 250 million children over the next four years, which experts say will prevent four million child deaths. GAVI’s work so far is estimated to have already saved 5 million lives.

How was this accomplished?

How were governments, under pressure right now to cut back on foreign aid due to the economic downturn, convinced to so strongly support this initiative that has much lower “brand” recognition than, say, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria or the latest natural disaster?

Bill Gates likely had some influence, sure. He’s long been a big proponent of vaccines. But even the Microsoft billionaire can’t always get governments to do what he wants.

That’s where his friend Bono and the ONE Campaign come in.

Gates Foundation

Bono on a recent tour of the new Gates Foundation campus, flanked by Melinda Gates and U2 lead guitarist Edge. Bill's in the back, pointing

The ONE Campaign is primarily Bono’s creation. It’s a grassroots and advocacy lobbying organization that was launched by Bono and others, with funding from the Gates Foundation, to support efforts aimed at fighting poverty — and diseases of poverty — in Africa and other poor countries. Continue reading

Post-party news at the new Gates Foundation campus — Bono drops by to say hi and activists drop in to protest | 

There were a few notable events over the weekend focused on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation following its Thursday grand opening of the new Seattle campus.

Bono praising the Gateses. Activists denouncing them.

Flickr, Phil Romans

Bono, who was in town for a Seattle performance by U2, came by the philanthropy on Friday to say hi and wish everyone well. The rock star also wished the Gates Foundation well at the concert Saturday. Here’s the skinny on his visit to the philanthropy from My Northwest and on his concert comments from Geekwire (which included this Twitpic from Sheena Murphy)

Bono thanked concert-goers for signing up to join the ONE campaign, which advocates for many global health causes championed by the Gates Foundation. He then thanked Bill and Melinda Gates “for your passion, your brain power and your cash, actually.”


AGRA Watch leafletting outside Gates Foundation

On Saturday, before the U2 concert and during the public open house at the new complex, activists who oppose the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural development in Africa protested outside and handed out critical flyers.

Members of Seattle-based Community Alliance for Global Justice and AGRA Watch contend “the majority of the projects funded by Gates promote high-tech industrial agricultural methods and market-driven development – privatizing seed, lobbying for genetically modified crops, increasing farmer debt alongside corporate profits, and encouraging land consolidation.”

Finally, I just got this photo sent me by someone who saw this written on one of the whiteboards during the celebration of the new Gates Foundation campus. I wonder how many know that the original mid-1990 meetings that led to the forming of the Gates Foundation — back when there were just a handful of people involved and no actual location — was upstairs in a pizza joint.

Yes, they should have had pizza:

A message to Bill at the Gates Foundation's grand opening

Bono is no champion of change, says development expert | 

Flickr, Globetoppers

Not compared to John Lennon anyway.

“Lennon was a rebel. Bono is not,” says NYU Professor Bill Easterly, a popular and often controversial voice on the development and foreign aid scene.

In an article for Sunday’s Washington Post, Easterly marked the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death by challenging the commonly held view that U2′s lead singer Bono (aka Paul David Hewson) is a crusader for the poor who challenges the powerful and holds politicians to account.

Lennon did, the NYU economist says, but not Bono:

Lennon’s protests against the war in Vietnam so threatened the U.S. government that he was hounded by the FBI, police and immigration authorities. He was a moral crusader who challenged leaders whom he thought were doing wrong. Bono, by contrast, has become a sort of celebrity policy expert, supporting specific technical solutions to global poverty.

He does not challenge power but rather embraces it; he is more likely to appear in photo ops with international political leaders – or to travel through Africa with a Treasury secretary – than he is to call them out in a meaningful way.


Bill Easterly

While there is something to be admired in the celebrity dissident, Easterly says Bono is simply ridiculous as a “celebrity wonk.” Easterly goes on to say:

While Bono calls global poverty a moral wrong, he does not identify the wrongdoers. Instead, he buys into technocratic illusions about the issue without paying attention to who has power and who lacks it, who oppresses and who is oppressed.

While Bono champions “technical” solutions to ending poverty, Easterly said, Lennon directly challenged the powerful — and paid dearly for it.

Well, it’s a bit harsh. And kind of curious since Easterly is himself sort of a wonk. But as an academic who likes a rousing good debate, he notes on his blog AidWatch that, by far, most of those responding to his article completely disagree with him. Here’s one such commenter, Crawford:

I couldn’t disagree more with your article about Lennon vs Bono. Most people are sick of celebrities making generalizations about causes and not knowing a whole lot about what they are talking about. Any twat can take a “stand” on something and becauce they are famous get attention for it. Bono actually knows his stuff and to say that he just smoozes with the big wigs and follows the status quo shows you know little about Bono. He understands to get things done you have to meet with people you disagree with. Bono has been more effective at getting money, getting policy changed, etc etc. than any other activist in the history of celebrity activists.

It’s well worth reading Easterly’s article, and the response he got. His critical comparison of Lennon vs. Bono appears to have prompted the Guardian to ask its readers to chime in by answering the question: Do celebrities have a role to play in development?

The answer is yes, of course, since we see them everywhere playing those roles — Angelina Jolie in Haiti, Clooney in Sudan and so on. The real question is if the celebrity is using his or her status to help in a crisis or if appearing in a crisis is aimed at helping the celebrity’s status.