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Top 5 points in Gates Foundation annual report

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today published its 2011 annual report. Yes, I know it’s almost 2013. But they’ve been going through some big internal changes and all these annual reports are issued after-the-fact.

On a quick read upon its release today, I’d say here are five main takeaways from the report:

1. The Gates Foundation has recently undergone a major reorganization of its global programs in which a number of projects previously housed under global health (maternal and child health, family planning, polio) are now to be administered under the development program.

Chris Elias, former president at PATH, now runs the development program and Trevor Mundel, a top drug development expert formerly at Novartis, runs a more narrowly focused global health program. I’ll write more about that later.

2. Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes is going to start a new blog (first post here).

Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes

Raikes says he is doing this because “We need to go beyond partners to the critics and dissenters of our approaches. In philanthropy we don’t have competitors but we do have critics. Competition and critics are good. They help us make the right choices. They test our conviction.”

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? (I did — see my follow-up post and clarification.)

The foundation did do a conference call later with grantees to see what they should do to improve communications. As I noted in the post about this event, many of those both inside and outside agree that this has been a serious problem — so bad that they even resorted to reading my smart-ass Humanosphere post to the entire staff.

4. Raikes’ visit to Ethiopia provides, in the annual report, an example of why the Gates Foundation reorganized. One of the primary goals of the reorganization of its approach to fighting global poverty and disease, Raikes said, was to move away from a “siloed” approach to solving problems and toward a more integrated approach. The needs of poor people are not compartmentalized, he said, and solutions can’t be either:

Historically, our focus on solving specific problems has often prevented us from stepping back and looking at the interrelationships among these issues to develop more holistic solutions.

5. The philanthropy in 2011 looks to have significantly increased its funding of media organizations (from zero reported funds in 2010 to $18 million in 2011). But it’s not immediately clear what happened in terms of their funding “strategic media partnerships” because of a shift to consolidate this practice into a single program rather than do media funding for particular program areas.

On their website link to annual report, this screenshot below showing program areas is interactive and you can get a bit more specific information scrolling over it or clicking on topics. The biggest piece of the funding pie (light brown) is global health:

Gates Foundation funding by program area, comparison 2011 to 2010


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] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.