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

USAID takes another forward step on budget transparency | 

Raj Shah
Raj Shah

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah announced that the US Foreign Assistance Dashboard was not only updated, but it included 53,000 financial transactions from the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013. It builds off an executive order signed by President Obama to make government information open and machine readable.

“Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing,” said President Obama in a memorandum.

The announcement is a significant forward step for transparency at USAID. The dashboard was created early in the Obama administration to much fanfare, but there were complaints that it was hard to access, data was sparse and it was not published in accordance with International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards. Changes come ahead of the deadline Publish What You Fund’s 2013 Aid Transparency Index and they should lead to improved marks over 2012.

“Never before has our Agency published spending data so comprehensively and so soon after the close of the quarter,” said Shah in a blog post about the release.

“Our commitment to transparency has not only helped strengthen accountability and improve communication; it has also had a direct impact on the way we work every day.” Continue reading

Rooting out seen and unseen corruption | 

A dapper Teodorin Obiang emerges from his luxury car.
A dapper Teodorin Obiang emerges from his luxury car.

Nine cars were sold off at an auction in Paris raising $3.6 million. Luxury names took the stage including Porche, Bugatti and Bentley.

The owner: Teodorin Obiang, son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodor Obiang. The cars were seized in 2011 when the younger Obiang was charged with embezzling public funds in France to buy real estate in Paris.

It is quite the collection for someone who earned an official salary of $7,000 a month during that time. He has also managed to purchase a $30 million home in Malibu and liberated an €18 million art collection from the walls of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

The money comes largely from the oil that the country produces. The sale of oil makes it way into the smooth rides and stylish suits worn by the Obiang family.

Corruption may feel like a problem in a far off nation, but it is much closer to home than one expects, says Global Witness co-founder Charmain Gooch.

“Corruption is made possible by the actions of global facilitators,” says Gooch. Continue reading

Global leaders try to get serious about hunger | 

BigIF G8 rally and Hunger Summit
Young people participating at the BigIf rally in Hyde Park.

As the leaders of the world’s economic powers gather to discuss the state of the global economy and find common ground on pressing international issues, nutrition is featuring as a main topic.

New research from the Lancet says that malnutrition is responsible the death of 3.1 million children a year. A number that represents just less than half of all deaths for children under five years old.

Advocates pressed on the UK, host of the G8 summit, to commit to end hunger. Continue reading

Point of clarification on 5 key points from Gates Foundation 2012 report | 

Tom Paulson

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation release its annual report and I did a quick analysis of it, which I dubbed the Top Five Points. I selected five things from the annual report which caught my attention, one of which made some folks at the philanthropy unhappy.

That was point 3:

There’s nothing in this annual letter (or in Raikes’ new blog post) following up on what has been a chronic complaint about the Gates Foundation — it’s lack of transparency and relatively poor communication skills with grant recipients and outsiders. Last year, Raikes addressed this complaint head-on and said they intended to improve. Does anybody know what happened? Did I miss something?

Well, I did miss something. My words are factually correct — in that this chronic problem was not mentioned in the annual report. But I did, in fact, neglect to mention a number of efforts underway by the Seattle philanthropy to improve its communications with grant recipients and the outside community. I neglected them because I didn’t know about them. Continue reading

US firms like Microsoft and Amazon ranked low on transparency | 

Many American corporations, including tech giants like Microsoft, Apple and Amazon, score poorly in a new report by Transparency International which ranks the world’s top 105 corporations according to their accountability and transparency.

Why would a news site that covers global health and the fight against poverty care about corporate transparency?

Flickr, Sosialistisk Ungdom

Burning oil fields, Nigeria

Well, for example, think about what the oil industry has done to improve the health and well-being of most Nigerians.

I’ll give you a hint: Not much. Arguably, the global oil industry has even undermined the health and welfare of most Nigerians. It has been rife with charges of corruption (foreign and national), despoiled the environment in many oil-producing communities and enriched the elite in Nigeria. Little of Nigeria’s oil wealth ever seems to ‘trickle down’ to average citizens or into basic government programs aimed at improving health or welfare.

Recently, in fact, the life expectancy in Nigeria actually declined to 47 years, one of the lowest in West Africa.

Nigeria is a great example of how overall economic growth and wealth does not necessarily translate into overall improvements for the people of a nation experiencing such growth.

So how best to make sure private enterprise and economic development are actually serving the interests of the people?

Corporate transparency. It is really the only “market-based” solution to keeping big firms accountable and reducing government corruption when it comes to the kind of deals made at this level of commerce.

Today, mega-corporations are often cutting deals with developing country governments to, say, build a bridge, start a manufacturing plant or buy up land for ‘agricultural reform projects’ (the latter which often seems to involve kicking smallholder farmers off their land).

So corporate transparency is actually central to the humanitarian enterprise, especially with the growth of ‘public-private partnerships’ and the push for market-based solutions to problems of poverty and inequity. The Guardian has published a graphic illustrating the latest Corporate Transparency Index rankings of the world’s top 105 countries.

Norway’s oil  company Statoil breaks from the pack as the world’s most transparent mega-corporation and Bank of China is least transparent. Lovable old Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway firm doesn’t look too good actually. Surprisingly perhaps, many of the top international pharmaceutical firms score pretty high.

Below is just a screen grab from The Guardian. Go to their site for the interactive map and data.

Number crunchers say the evidence is: Transparency strengthens global health | 

Flickr, withassociates

A lot of people working in global health talk about the need for “transparency” and public accountability, but what does that mean? Why does it matter?

At the UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, it includes allowing journalists like me to sit in on even the most contentious internal debates and policy discussions. Last week, the IHME held its annual Board of Directors meeting — and I sat in for some of the closing remarks.

I’m highlighting this practice because, as I wrote yesterday regarding the editor of Lancet boycotting Seattle’s Pacific Health Summit, it still seems acceptable to many in the global health community to exclude the public — or at least keep them at an arm’s length from the true debates and discussions.

Continue reading

Petition: Make foreign aid transparent | 

There is a move afoot to “Make Aid Transparent.”

No, not invisible. That’s actually a different problem. The problem being addressed by the organization linked to above — called, appropriately enough, Make Aid Transparent — is that governments (including our own) don’t always reveal in much detail about what they are, or are not, doing in foreign aid and where the money goes.

The different problem of aid invisibility is that many people, in the U.S. anyway, appear to be largely unaware of what foreign aid accomplishes and how little we actually spend — only about one percent of the federal budget.

But that’s another story. Here’s a good article in the Guardian on Britain’s development chief, Andrew Mitchell, explaining why foreign aid is in the national interest. Same argument goes for the U.S.

Maybe more people would have better appreciation of the potential value of foreign aid (yes, like anything, it’s debatable) if governments were more open and transparent about aid.
Here’s an animation from Make Aid Transparent asking to you sign their petition:

Make Aid Transparent from Make Aid Transparent on Vimeo.