It’s a question raised by foundation CEO Mark Suzman in its annual letter released Tuesday that outlines the organization’s priorities and announces its budget for the coming year. With $8.3 billion to give by 2023, the Gates Foundation is the largest private philanthropic donor. And with an endowment of more than $70 billion, its spending power is likely to continue for decades.
When asked in an interview by The Associated Press what he thought the answer to that question was, Suzman said, “No.”
He said the Seattle-based foundation takes its direction from Sustainable Development Goalsset by the United Nations and its member countries in 2015, and recognizes that with its great resources comes great responsibility.
“We’re trying to use our tools, our expertise, our resources, sometimes our technical expertise, sometimes our advocacy voice to help advance and push forward,” Suzman said.
Others disagree, including researchers who follow the foundation funding for US educationit emphasis on international global health organization and its approach to smallholder agriculture all over the world. The foundation works on a wide range of issues and employs 1,700 staff members, who are experts in the areas, and supports a big-dream attitude to set ambitious goals.
Bill Gates, in his latest public correspondence in December, described the foundation’s mission as reducing inequality and helping “people in poor countries who don’t die, don’t die. Especially children.” Suzman said its mission is to help “ensure that every person has the opportunity to lead a healthy, productive life.”
It has spent billions of dollars on vaccination against polio, treatment and prevention of malaria and HIV and has recently advanced vaccines for diseases such as cholera and is encouraging other donors, including countries, to join these global public health efforts.
But some of its interventions have not achieved their goals, despite widespread adoption.
In one example, the foundation advocated a theory to measure teacher effectiveness in US schools. Subsequently, it commissioned research in 2018 that found the method little has been done to consistently improve learning outcomes for students. It also promotes the curriculum standards called Common Core which criticized as too formulaic and is still in effect in some states.
The foundation announced in October a new education initiative funded by $1.1 billion over four years to try to improve math scores by developing new curricula and digital tools. For Alex Molnar, of the National Education Policy Center, the plan shows the power of billionaires like Bill Gates – experimenting with the education of the poorest children, despite past mistakes.
“It’s so fundamentally misdirected and so clearly wrong, both in the moral sense and in the rational sense, that it’s literally astounding,” Molnar said. “This very rich, very narrow man can always, always hurt students while pretending that he is somehow improving the world.”
The foundation, said Suzman, approaches its educational work with humility and will develop curricula in collaboration with teachers, students and schools. It does not impose its ideas from the top down, he said.
When asked about past criticism that its education work ignores issues arising from poverty and harms learning, Suzman said he doesn’t see it as a role for philanthropy. He says that it should support the programs of governments or businesses that cannot or will not be funded.
“If we had more tools to address poverty, we would deal with it,” he said, of the foundation.
Molnar disagrees, saying that reducing the number of poor people means stopping the richest people from accumulating their fortunes in the first place.
“It takes money from people like Mr. Gates – tax the bejesus out of them,” he said. “Nobody has that much money. No one should have that much influence. “
The Gates Foundation has recently taken steps to decentralize its decision-making. In the past two years, it has expanded its top leadership, appointing five new members to its board of trustees, with 2023 marking the first time the larger board has approved the foundation budget.
The new members have pushed the foundation to be more transparent, Suzman said. The board also recommended the foundation allocate some of the $20 billion that Bill Gates pledged to the organization in 2022 for future work and gradually increase the annual budget to $9 billion by 2026.
That the new board members have deep experience in philanthropy “is a recognition that giving money well is a sophisticated business and something that requires experience and learning and expertise,” Kathleen said. Enright, who chairs the Council on Foundations.
Bill Gates has reiterated that all of his wealth will eventually go to the foundation, which will close 20 years after he, Melinda French Gates and Warren Buffett all died. Buffett has given the foundation $36 billion from his fortune.
“Thankfully it’s not a burning platform,” Suzman said.
In 2021, when Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates announced their divorce, they said that evaluate his participation in the foundation after two years. He remains fully committed to the foundation’s work, Suzman said, when asked.
In 2021, in his first report on the inclusiveness and fairness of its workthe foundation has learned that many of its grantees and partners want to be more consulted and have their input included in the foundation’s strategy.
Suzman said that each team of the foundation now has a mandate to deepen their relationship with partners and its entire leadership team will participate in a one-year inclusion training.
“Ultimately, money can buy you any form of short-term success,” Suzman says. “But long term sustainability requires deep sustained local ownership and direction and ultimately resources.”
Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits receives support through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is responsible for this content. For all AP philanthropy members, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.