Bill Gates

Head and shoulders photo of Bill GatesBorn in 1955 in the USA 

Citizenship: USA; residence: Medina, Washington (USA)

Net worth: US$ 86.9B, self-made, industry: until 2008 technology (Microsoft), since then investment fund (Cascade Investment LLC).

Education: Harvard dropout 

Personal websiteTwitter: @BillGates


Political compass: Center-Libertarian/Center 

In his own words:

“This is a family foundation driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family” (“Guiding Principle #1” of the BMGF) 

“Rich governments are not fighting some of the world’s most deadly diseases because rich countries don’t have them. The private sector is not developing vaccines and medicines for these diseases, because developing countries can’t buy them.” (2005 speech at 2005 World Health Assembly)

“The work of the foundation reflects the essential optimism that Melinda and I feel about the future, and our belief that a combination of scientific innovation and great partnerships with leaders who work on behalf of the world’s poorest people can dramatically improve the human condition.” (2010 “Testimony Before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations“)

 

Electioneering:

Apart from very minor campaign donations, as far as we know, Bill Gates has not involved himself in electoral politics.

Lobbying/Advocacy:

Post-Microsoft (for which Gates lobbied extensively, especially to stave off anti-trust legislation), Gates advocates vigorously for his foundation’s goals. He and his wive have been invited three times to speak at the World Health Assembly, the gathering of the world’s ministers for health, which caused a coalition of global health NGOs, in 2014, to issue a protest letter stating that “[i]t is unacceptable that the WHO, supposedly governed by sovereign nation states, should countenance that at its annual global conference, the keynote address would be delivered thrice in ten years by individuals from the same private organization, and from the same family”.

Opinion shaping:

Bill Gates is spending large amounts on advocacy and media-relations in order to raise awareness and to strengthen support for his agenda.

Philanthropy:

One can see Bill Gates as the unofficial minister of global health. His great leap into philanthropy with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), in 1999, incited other donors to follow suit, and his foundation is a financial octopus whose grant-making arms reach into almost all corners of the global health universe. The volume of the BMGF’s expenditure has become larger than that of the World Health Organization (WHO), and whereas most of the WHO Director-General’s money is non-discretionary, Bill Gates can set his priorities freely.

Through the massive funding of biomedical scientific research, the BMGF and its chairman have acquired expertise-based legitimacy within the field. Via large-scale grants to other organizations and the WHO itself, the BMGF is able to shape the global health agenda, by demanding matching grants and representation on governing boards. 

As a grant-making institution, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which declared 1,376 employees in 2016, is primarily channeling money to other actors, particularly scientific research and international health delivery organizations. It is involved in a great variety of initiatives, but three major funding programs have been maintained over time, and they characterize the BMGF’s priorities:

  1. The BMGF’s first super-sized donation, US$ 750 million, in 1999, went to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a public-private partnership (PPP) launched in 2000 to improve children’s immunization against infectious diseases in developing countries. Up until 2016, the BMGF has committed US$ 2.5 billion to GAVI, making it the largest contributor for many years.
  2. At the 2003 World Economic Forum, Bill Gates announced the so-called “Grand Challenges in Global Health”, a program that funds innovative science addressing pre-defined research questions. Initially equipped with US$ 200 million, it later received additional US$ 250 million; another “Grand Challenges Explorations” program started in 2007 (US$ 100 million), and in 2014, the BMGF announced a further round of “Grand Challenges” (with no specified funding envelope), which involves several partner governments.
  3. With huge grants to individual organizations, the BMGF invests in initiatives that combat specific diseases, mainly malaria, HIV/AIDS, polio and tuberculosis.

Further reading:

On the BMGF’s role in the American education system: Kovacs, Philip E. (ed.) (2011). The Gates Foundation and the Future of U.S. “Public” Schools. New York: Routledge.

A critical analysis (open access) of the BMGF’s role in global health: Birn, Anne-Emanuelle (2014). Philanthrocapitalism, Past and Present: The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the setting(s) of the international/global health agenda. Hypothesis 12/1: 1-27.

A positive (open access) evaluation of the BMGF’s contribution to global health: Lidén, Jon (2013). The Grand Decade for Global Health: 1998–2008. London: Chatham House.

A broad critique of “philanthrocapitalism” more generally, and the Gates Foundation in particular: McGoey, Linsey (2015). No Such thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy. London: Verso.