Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), also known as the Gates Foundation, is a private foundation founded by Bill and Melinda Gates. It was launched in 2000, and is said to be the largest private foundation in the US, holding $38 billion in assets. The primary aims of the foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. The foundation, based in Seattle, Washington, is controlled by its three trustees: Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett. Other principal officers include Co-Chair William H. Gates, Sr. and Chief Executive Officer Susan Desmond-Hellmann.
|Type||Non-operating private foundation
(IRS exemption status): 501(c)(3)
|Purpose||Healthcare, Education, Ending poverty|
|Headquarters||Seattle, Washington, United States|
|Method||Donations and grants|
William H. Gates Sr.
|Endowment||US$44.3 billion as of 31 December 2014[update]|
|William H. Gates Foundation
It had an endowment of US$44.3 billion as of December 31, 2014[update]. The scale of the foundation and the way it seeks to apply business techniques to giving makes it one of the leaders in venture philanthropy, though the foundation itself notes that the philanthropic role has limitations. In 2007, its founders were ranked as the second most generous philanthropists in America, and Warren Buffett the first. As of May 16, 2013, Bill Gates had donated US$28 billion to the foundation. Since its foundation, the foundation has endowed and supported a broad range of social, health, and education developments including the establishment of the Gates Cambridge Scholarships at Cambridge University.
In 1994, the foundation was formed as the William H. Gates Foundation. During the foundation's following years, funding grew to US$2 billion. On June 15, 2006, Gates announced his plans to transition out of a day-to-day role with Microsoft, effective July 31, 2008, to allow him to devote more time to working with the foundation.
In 2005, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with the musician Bono, were named by Time as Persons of the Year 2005 for their outstanding charitable work. In the case of Bill and Melinda Gates, the work referenced was that of this foundation.
In April 2010, Gates was invited to visit and speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he asked the students to take on the hard problems of the world in their futures. He also explained the nature and philosophy of his philanthropic endeavors.
In 2010, the foundation's founders started the Commission on Education of Health Professionals for the 21st Century, entitled "Transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world."
A 2011 survey of grantees found that many believed the foundation did not make its goals and strategies clear and sometimes did not understand those of the grantees; that the foundation's decision- and grantmaking procedures were too opaque; and that its communications could be more consistent and responsive. The foundation's response was to improve the clarity of its explanations, make "orientation calls" to grantees upon awarding grants, tell grantees who their foundation contact is, give timely feedback when they receive a grantee report, and establish a way for grantees to provide anonymous or attributed feedback to the foundation. The foundation also launched a podcast series.
In 2013, Hillary Clinton launched a partnership between the foundation and the Clinton Foundation to gather and study data on the progress of women and girls around the world since the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference On Women in Beijing. This is called "No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project."
Warren Buffett donationEdit
On June 25, 2006, Warren Buffett (then the world's richest person, estimated worth of US$62 billion as of April 16, 2008) pledged to give the foundation approximately 10 million Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares spread over multiple years through annual contributions, with the first year's donation of 500,000 shares being worth approximately US$1.5 billion. Buffett set conditions so that these contributions do not simply increase the foundation's endowment, but effectively work as a matching contribution, doubling the Foundation's annual giving. Bloomberg News noted, "Buffett's gift came with three conditions for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Bill or Melinda Gates must be alive and active in its administration; it must continue to qualify as a charity; and each year it must give away an amount equal to the previous year's Berkshire gift, plus an additional amount equal to 5 percent of net assets. Buffett gave the foundation two years to abide by the third requirement." The Gates Foundation received 5% (500,000) of the shares in July 2006 and will receive 5% of the remaining earmarked shares in the July of each following year (475,000 in 2007, 451,250 in 2008). In July 2013, Buffet announced another donation of his company's Class B stock, this time worth $2 billion, to the Gates Foundation.
Program areas and grant databaseEdit
To maintain its status as a charitable foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation must donate funds equal to at least 5 percent of its assets each year. As of April 2014, the foundation is organized into four program areas under chief executive officer Susan Desmond-Hellmann, who "sets strategic priorities, monitors results, and facilitates relationships with key partners":
- Global Development Division
- Global Health Division
- United States Division
- Global Policy & Advocacy Division
The foundation maintains an online database of grants on its website which includes for each grant the name of the grantee organization, the purpose of the grant and the amount. This database is publicly available.
Open access policyEdit
In November 2014, the Gates Foundation announced that they were adopting an open access (OA) policy for publications and data, "to enable the unrestricted access and reuse of all peer-reviewed published research funded by the foundation, including any underlying data sets". This move has been widely applauded by those who are working in the area of capacity building and knowledge sharing. Its terms have been called the most stringent among similar OA policies. As of January 1, 2015 their Open Access policy is effective for all new agreements. In March 2017, it was confirmed that the open access policy, Gates Open Research would be based on the same initiative launched in 2016 by Wellcome Trust in their Wellcome Open Research policy launched in partnership with F1000 Research.
Funds for grants in developing countriesEdit
The following table lists the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's committed funding as recorded in their International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) publications. The Gates Foundation announced in October 2013 that it would join the IATI. The IATI publications only include a subset of Gates Foundation grants (mainly excluding grants to developed countries), and contain few grants before 2009 (which are excluded from the table). The Gates Foundation states on the IATI Registry site that "reporting starts from 2009 and excludes grants related to our US programs and grants that if published could harm our employees, grantees, partners, or the beneficiaries of our work".
|Committed funding (US$ millions)|
|DAC 5 Digit Sector||2009||2010||2011||2012||2013||2014||2015||Sum|
|Infectious disease control||256.9||720.3||462.8||528.7||1248.3||1271.8||1097.5||5586.4|
|STD control including HIV/AIDS||175.5||26.9||291.4||199.7||184.4||264.4||165.7||1308.0|
|Reproductive health care||173.8||66.8||77.4||165.2||84.9||207.6||130.0||905.8|
|Health policy and administrative management||119.3||14.3||145.7||75.5||61.1||113.4||130.3||659.5|
|Agricultural policy and administrative management||72.9||30.0||77.5||77.1||86.2||19.7||96.9||460.3|
|Promotion of development awareness||47.2||45.0||35.5||41.7||124.4||61.7||80.7||436.2|
|Basic health care||22.3||23.9||43.7||73.2||1.7||45.6||206.3||416.7|
|Financial policy and administrative management||29.0||18.4||9.8||8.9||70.1||32.9||53.4||222.5|
The following table lists the top receiving organizations to which the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed funding, between 2009 and 2015. The table again only includes grants recorded in the Gates Foundation's IATI publications.
The foundation explains on its website that its trustees divided the organization into two entities: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust. The foundation section, based in Seattle, US, "focuses on improving health and alleviating extreme poverty", and its trustees are Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. The trust section manages "the investment assets and transfer proceeds to the foundation as necessary to achieve the foundation's charitable goals"—it holds the assets of Bill and Melinda Gates, who are the sole trustees, and receives contributions from Buffett.
The foundation posts its audited financial statements and 990-PF forms on the "Financials" section of its website as they become available. At the end of 2012, the foundation registered a cash sum of US$4,998,000, down from US$10,810,000 at the end of 2011. Unrestricted net assets at the end of 2012 were worth US$31,950,613,000, while total assets were worth US$37,176,777,000.
As of 2016[update], the foundation appeared to have the following stakes in investments:Arcos Dorados Holdings ~ 2.36% stake, AutoNation, Inc. ~ 1.56% stake Berkshire Hathaway Class B Stock ~ 6.59% stake, British Petroleum ~ 0.24% stake (US$372 million), Canadian National Railway Co. ~ 2.06% stake, Caterpillar, Inc. ~ 1.77% stake, Coca-Cola Co. ~ 0.77% stake Crown Castle International Corp. ~ 1.60% stake, Exxon Mobil ~ 0.19% stake, FedEx Corp. ~ 0.97% stake, FEMSA ~ 3.06% stake, Liberty Global ~ 2.12% stake, McDonald's Corp. ~ 1.09% stake Republic Services, Inc. ~ 0.37% stake, Shell - US$5.5 million, Televisa ~ 2.9% stake, Wal-Mart ~ 0.36% stake, Waste Management, Inc. ~ 3.97% stake.
Global development divisionEdit
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In March 2006, the foundation announced a US$5 million grant for the International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization based in Washington, D.C., US to work in the area of sex trafficking. The official announcement explained that the grant would allow the IJM to "create a replicable model for combating sex trafficking and slavery" that would involve the opening of an office in a region with high rates of sex trafficking, following research. The office was opened for three years for the following purposes: "conducting undercover investigations, training law enforcement, rescuing victims, ensuring appropriate aftercare, and seeking perpetrator accountability".
The IJM used the grant money to found "Project Lantern" and established an office in the Philippines city of Cebu. In 2010, the results of the project were published, in which the IJM stated that Project Lantern had led to "an increase in law enforcement activity in sex trafficking cases, an increase in commitment to resolving sex trafficking cases among law enforcement officers trained through the project, and an increase in services – like shelter, counseling and career training – provided to trafficking survivors". At the time that the results were released, the IJM was exploring opportunities to replicate the model in other regions.
Gates Cambridge ScholarshipsEdit
In October 2000, William Gates established the Gates Cambridge Scholarships which allow students and scholars from the U.S. and around the world to study at Cambridge University, one of the top universities in the world. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship has often been compared to the Rhodes Scholarship, given its similarly international scope and substantial endowment. In 2000, the Gates Foundation endowed the scholarship trust with $210 million to help outstanding graduate students outside of the United Kingdom study at the University of Cambridge. The Gates Foundation has continued to contribute funds to expand the scholarship, making it one of the largest and best endowed scholarships in the world. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship accepts less than 0.3% of applicants and remains extremely competitive. Each year, approximately 100 new graduate students from around the world receive funding to study at Cambridge University.
- Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI): A US$35 million grant for the AFI supports a coalition of countries from the developing world to create savings accounts, insurance, and other financial services that are made available to people living on less than $2 per day.
- Financial Access Initiative: A US$5 million grant allows Financial Access Initiative to conduct field research and answer important questions about microfinance and financial access in impoverished countries around the world.
- Pro Mujer: A five-year US$3.1 million grant to Pro Mujer—a microfinance network in Latin America combining financial services with healthcare for the poorest women entrepreneurs—will be used to research new opportunities for the poorest segment of the Latin American microfinance market.
- Grameen Foundation: A US$1.5 million grant allows Grameen Foundation to approve more microloans that support Grameen's goal of helping five million additional families, and successfully freeing 50 percent of those families from poverty within five years.
- International Rice Research Institute: Between November 2007 and October 2010, the Gates Foundation offered US$19.9 million to the International Rice Research Institute. The goal of the aid was to support the increasing world demand for rice. The Gates Foundation claims: "To keep up with worldwide demand, the production of rice will have to increase by about 70 percent in the next two decades." The International Rice Research Institute has developed Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice variant used to combat Vitamin A deficiency.
- Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA): The Gates Foundation has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to enhance agricultural science and small-farm productivity in Africa, building on the Green Revolution that the Rockefeller Foundation spurred in the 1940s and 1960s. The Gates Foundation has made an initial US$100 million investment in this effort, to which the Rockefeller Foundation has contributed US$50 million.
Water, sanitation and hygieneEdit
The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in mid-2005 as a "Learning Initiative", and became a full-fledged program under the Global Development Division in early 2010. The Foundation has since 2005 undertaken a wide range of efforts in the WASH sector involving research, experimentation, reflection, advocacy, and field implementation. In 2009, the Foundation decided to refocus its WASH effort mainly on sustainable sanitation services for the poor, using non-piped sanitation services (i.e. without the use of sewers), and less on water supply. This was because the sanitation sector was generally receiving less attention from other donors and from governments, and because the Foundation believed it had the potential to make a real difference through strategic investments.
In mid 2011, the Foundation announced in its new "Water, Sanitation, Hygiene Strategy Overview" that its funding now focuses primarily on sanitation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, because access to improved sanitation is lowest in those regions. Their grant-making focus has been since 2011 on sanitation science and technology ("transformative technologies"), delivery models at scale, urban sanitation markets, building demand for sanitation, measurement and evaluation as well as policy, advocacy and communications.
In mid 2011, the foundation stated that they had committed more than US$265 million to the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector over the past five years, i.e. since about 2006. For the time period of about 2008 to mid 2015, all grants awarded to water, sanitation and hygiene projects totaled a value of around US$650 million, according to the publicly available grant database.
Improved sanitation in the developing world is a global need, but a neglected priority, as shown by the data collected by the Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation (JMP) of UNICEF and WHO. This program is tasked to monitor progress towards the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) relating to drinking water and sanitation. About one billion people have no sanitation facility whatsoever and continue to defecate in gutters, behind bushes or in open water bodies, with no dignity or privacy. This is called open defecation and it poses significant health risks. India is the country with the highest number of people practicing open defecation: around 600 million people. The Foundation has been funding many sanitation research and demonstration projects in India since about 2011.
In 2011, the foundation launched a program called "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" with the aim to promote the development of innovations in toilet design to benefit the 2.5 billion people that do not have access to safe and effective sanitation. This program has generated significant interest of the mainstream media. It was complemented by a program called "Grand Challenges Explorations" (2011 to 2013 with some follow-up grants reaching until 2015) which involved grants of US$100,000 each in the first round. Both funding schemes explicitly excluded project ideas that relied on centralized sewerage systems or are not compatible with development country contexts.
Since the launch of the "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge", more than a dozen research teams, mainly at universities in the U.S., Europe, India, China and South Africa, have received grants to develop innovative on-site and off-site waste treatment solutions for the urban poor. The grants were in the order of 400,000 USD for their first phase, followed by typically 1-3 million USD for their second phase; many of them investigated resource recovery or processing technologies for excreta or fecal sludge.
The "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" is focused on "reinventing the flush toilet". The aim was to create a toilet that not only removes pathogens from human excreta, but also recovers resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients (a concept also known as reuse of excreta). It should operate "off-the-grid" without connections to water, sewer, or electrical networks. Finally, it should costs less than 5 US-cents per user per day.
High-tech toilets for tackling the growing public health problem of human waste are gaining increasing attention, but this focus on a "technology fix" has also been criticized by many in the sector. However, low-tech solutions may be more practical in poor countries, and research is also funded by the foundation for such toilets.
The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge is a long-term research and development effort to develop a hygienic, stand-alone toilet. This challenge is being complemented by another investment program to develop new technologies for improved pit latrine emptying (called by the foundation the "Omni-Ingestor") and fecal sludge processing (called "Omni-Processor"). The aim of the "Omni Processor" is to convert excreta (for example fecal sludge) into beneficial products such as energy and soil nutrients with the potential to develop local business and revenue.
Examples of transformative technologies researchEdit
- About 200 sanitation projects in many different countries and at various scales - some with a technology focus, some with a focus on market development or policy and advocacy, have received funding by the foundation since 2008.
- The University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa Gates Foundation was awarded US$1.6 million in 2014 to act as a hub for sanitation researchers and product developers.
- One example of an Omni-Processor is a combustion based system designed to turn fecal sludge into energy and drinking water. The development of this particular prototype by U.S.-based company Janicki Bioenergy attracted media attention for the sanitation crisis and the work of the foundation after Bill Gates drank water produced from this process.
- Examples for the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge include: Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder were giving funding of US$1.8 million to develop a prototype toilet that uses solar heat to treat the fecal matter and produce biochar. Funding has been provided to RTI International since 2012 to develop a toilet based on electrochemical disinfection and solid waste combustion.
Other Global InitiativesEdit
Some examples include:
- 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake: The foundation made total grant donations of US$3 million to various charities to help with the aid effort for victims of the earthquake. These charities include: CARE international, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, and World Vision.
- 2005 Kashmir earthquake: The foundation made a donation of US$500,000 for the earthquake.
- In 2014, the Gates Foundation released "flexible funds" in the order of US$50 million to United Nations agencies and other organizations involved in the work against the deadly disease Ebola in West Africa.
Global health divisionEdit
Since 2011, the president of the Global Health Program is Trevor Mundel.
- The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: The foundation has donated more than $6.6 billion for global health programs, including over US$1.3 billion donated as of 2012 on malaria alone, greatly increasing the dollars spent per year on malaria research. Before the Gates efforts on malaria, malaria drugmakers had largely given up on producing drugs to fight the disease, and the foundation is the world's largest donor to research on diseases of the poor. With the help of Gates-funded vaccination drives, deaths from measles in Africa have dropped by 90 percent since 2000.
The foundation has donated billions of dollars to help sufferers of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, protecting millions of children from death at the hands of preventable diseases. However, a 2007 investigation by The Los Angeles Times claimed there are three major unintended consequences with the foundation's allocation of aid. First, sub-Saharan Africa already suffered from a shortage of primary doctors before the arrival of the Gates Foundation, but "by pouring most contributions into the fight against such high-profile killers as AIDS, Gates grantees have increased the demand for specially trained, higher-paid clinicians, diverting staff from basic care" in sub-Saharan Africa. This "brain drain" adds to the existing doctor shortage and pulls away additional trained staff from children and those suffering from other common killers. Second, "the focus on a few diseases has shortchanged basic needs such as nutrition and transportation". Third, "Gates-funded vaccination programs have instructed caregivers to ignore – even discourage patients from discussing – ailments that the vaccinations cannot prevent".
In response, the Gates Foundation has said that African governments need to spend more of their budgets on public health than on wars, that the foundation has donated at least $70 million to help improve nutrition and agriculture in Africa, in addition to its disease-related initiatives and that it is studying ways to improve the delivery of health care in Africa.
Both insiders and external critics have suggested that there is too much deference to Bill Gates's personal views within the Gates Foundation, insufficient internal debate, and pervasive "group think." Critics also complain that Gates Foundation grants are often awarded based on social connections and ideological allegiances rather than based on formal external review processes or technical competence.
Critics have suggested that Gates' approach to Global Health and Agriculture favors the interests of large pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies (in which Gates invests) over the interests of the people of developing countries.
The Global Health Program's other significant grants include:
- Polio eradication: In 2006, the foundation provided US$86 million toward efforts attempting to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio).
- The GAVI Alliance: The Foundation gave the GAVI Alliance (formerly the "Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization") a donation of US$750 million on January 25, 2005.
- Children's Vaccine Program: The Children's Vaccine Program, run by the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), received a donation of US$27 million to help vaccinate against Japanese encephalitis on December 9, 2003.
- University of Washington Department of Global Health: The Foundation provided approximately US$30 million for the foundation of the new Department of Global Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, US. The donation promoted three of the foundation's target areas: education, Pacific Northwest and global health.
- HIV Research: The foundation donated a total of US$287 million to various HIV/AIDS researchers. The money was split between 16 different research teams across the world, on the condition that the findings are shared amongst the teams.
- Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation: The foundation gave the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation more than US$280 million to develop and license an improved vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) for use in high-burden countries (HBCs).
- Cheaper high-tech tuberculosis (TB) test: In August 2012, the Foundation, in partnership with PEPFAR (United States President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and UNITAID (an international drug purchasing facility hosted by WHO), announced they had finalized an agreement to reduce the cost of a commercial TB test (Cepheid's Xpert MTB/RIF run on the GeneXpert platform), from US$16.86 to US$9.98. This test can take the place of smear microscopy, a technique first developed in the 1880s by Robert Koch. Smear microscopy often does not show TB infection in persons who are also co-infected with HIV, whereas the GeneXpert system can show TB in the co-infected patient. In addition, the system can show whether the particular TB strain is resistant to the bactericidal antibiotic rifampicin, a widely accepted indicator of the presence of multidrug resistant tuberculosis.
- Visceral leishmaniasis (VL) research: The Foundation awarded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases a US$5 million grant in 2009 for research into visceral leishmaniasis (VL), an emerging parasitic disease in Ethiopia, Africa, where it is frequently associated with HIV/AIDS, and is a leading cause of adult illness and death. The project, a collaborative effort with Addis Ababa University, will gather data for analysis—to identify the weak links in the transmission cycle—and devise methods for control of the disease. In 2005 the Foundation provided a US$30 million grant to The Institute for OneWorld Health to support the nonprofit pharmaceutical company's VL work in the rural communities of India, Bangladesh and Nepal. By September 2006, the company had received approval from the Indian body Drug-Controller General of India (DCGI) for the Paromomycin Intramuscular (IM) Injection, a drug that provides an effective cure for VL following a 21-day course. In 2010 Raj Shankar Ghosh, the Regional Director for the South Asia Institute for OneWorld Health, explained that the Foundation funded "the majority of our work" in the development of the drug.
- Next-Generation Condom: The foundation gave US$100,000 to 11 applicants in November 2013 to develop an improved condom; that is, one that "significantly preserves or enhances pleasure, in order to improve uptake and regular use", according to the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges in Global Health website. Further grants of up to US$1 million will be given to projects that are successful.
- Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs): Alongside WHO, the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates, and the World Bank, the Foundation endorsed the London Declaration on Neglected Tropical Diseases, "to eradicate, eliminate and intensify control of 17 selected diseases by 2015 and 2020", at a meeting on January 30, 2012, held at the Royal College of Physicians in London, UK. Gates was the principal organizer responsible for bringing together the heads of 13 of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies and the Foundation's monetary commitment to the Declaration was US$363 million over five years. On April 3, 2014, the two-year anniversary of the Declaration, Gates attended a meeting in Paris, France, at which participants reviewed the progress that had been made against 10 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The Foundation committed a further US$50 million, together with US$50 million from the Children's Investment Fund Foundation and US$120 million from the World Bank.
- Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI): A global group tasked with more quickly developing vaccines against infectious disease threats worldwide was launched on 8 January 2017 by a coalition of governments and nonprofit groups including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, funded with an initial investment of $460 million from Germany, Japan, Norway, the Wellcome Trust and the Gates foundation, aims to develop vaccines against known infectious disease threats that could be deployed quickly to contain outbreaks before they become global health emergencies, the group said in a statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
United States divisionEdit
Under President Allan Golston, the United States Program has made grants such as the following:
Up to 2013, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided $71 million to Planned Parenthood, the primary U.S. abortion provider, and affiliated organizations. In 2014, Melinda Gates has stated that the foundation "has decided not to fund abortion". In response to questions about this decision, Gates stated in a June 2014 blog post that she "struggle[s] with the issue" and that "the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning".
In 1997, the charity introduced a U.S. Libraries initiative with a goal of "ensuring that if you can get to a public library, you can reach the internet". Only 35% of the world's population has access to the Internet. The foundation has given grants, installed computers and software, and provided training and technical support in partnership with public libraries nationwide in an effort to increase access and knowledge. Helping provide access and training for these resources, this foundation helps move public libraries into the digital age.
Most recently, the foundation gave a US$12.2 million grant to the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET) to assist libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, many of which were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
A key aspect of the Gates Foundation's U.S. efforts involves an overhaul of the country's education policies at both the K-12 and college levels, including support for teacher evaluations and charter schools and opposition to seniority-based layoffs and other aspects of the education system that are typically backed by teachers' unions. It spent $373 million on education in 2009. It has also donated to the two largest national teachers' unions. The foundation was the biggest early backer of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In October 2017 it was announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would spend more than $1.7 billion over five years to pay for new initiatives in public education.
One of the foundation's goals is to lower poverty by increasing the number of college graduates in the United States, and the organization has funded "Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery" grants to think tanks and advocacy organizations to produce white papers on ideas for changing the current system of federal financial aid for college students, with a goal of increasing graduation rates. One of the ways the foundation has sought to increase the number of college graduates is to get them through college faster, but that idea has received some pushback from organizations of universities and colleges.
As part of its education-related initiatives, the foundation has funded journalists, think tanks, lobbying organizations and governments. Millions of dollars of grants to news organizations have funded reporting on education and higher education, including more than $1.4 million to the Education Writers Association to fund training for journalists who cover education. While some critics have feared the foundation for directing the conversation on education or pushing its point of view through news coverage, the foundation has said it lists all its grants publicly and does not enforce any rules for content among its grantees, who have editorial independence. Union activists in Chicago have accused Gates Foundation grantee Teach Plus, which was founded by new teachers and advocates against seniority-based layoffs, of "astroturfing".
The K-12 and higher education reform programs of the Gates Foundation have been criticized by some education professionals, parents, and researchers because they have driven the conversation on education reform to such an extent that they may marginalize researchers who do not support Gates' predetermined policy preferences. Several Gates-backed policies such as small schools, charter schools, and increasing class sizes have been expensive and disruptive, but some studies indicate they have not improved educational outcomes and may have caused harm.
Examples of some of the K-12 reforms advocated by the foundation include closing ineffective neighborhood schools in favor of privately run charter schools; extensively using standardized test scores to evaluate the progress of students, teachers, and schools; and merit pay for teachers based on student test scores. Critics also believe that the Gates Foundation exerts too much influence over public education policy without being accountable to voters or taxpayers. 
Some of the foundation's educational initiatives have included:
- Gates Cambridge Scholarships: In 2000, the Gates Foundation donated $210 million to help outstanding graduate students from the U.S. and around the world to study at the prestigious University of Cambridge. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship has often been compared to the Rhodes Scholarship given its international scope and substantial endowment, The scholar remains extremely competitive with just 0.3% of applicants being selected. Each year, approximately 100 new graduate students from around the world receive funding to attend Cambridge University. Several buildings at the University of Cambridge also bear the name of William and Melinda Gates after sizable contributions to their construction.
- Cornell University: Faculty of Computing and Information Science received US$25 million from the Foundation for a new Information Science building, which will be named the "Bill and Melinda Gates Hall". The total cost of the building is expected to be US$60 million. Construction began in March 2012, and officially opened in January 2014.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Part of the Ray and Maria Stata Center is known as the "Gates Tower" in recognition of partial funding of the building.
- Carnegie Mellon University: The foundation gave US$20 million to the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science for a new Computer Science building called the "Gates Center for Computer Science". It officially opened on September 22, 2009.
- Smaller schools: The Gates Foundation claims one in five students is unable to read and grasp the contents of what they read, and African American and Latino students are graduating high school with the skills of a middle school student. Gates Foundation has invested more than US$250 million in grants to create new small schools, reduce student-to-teacher ratios, and to divide up large high schools through the schools-within-a-school model.
- D.C. Achievers Scholarships: The Gates Foundation announced March 22, 2007 a US$122 million initiative to send hundreds of the District of Columbia's poorest students to college.
- Gates Millennium Scholars: Administered by the United Negro College Fund, the foundation donated US$1.5 billion for scholarships to high achieving minority students.
- NewSchools Venture Fund: The foundation contributed US$30 million to help NewSchools to manage more charter schools, which aim to prepare students in historically underserved areas for college and careers.
- Strong American Schools: On April 25, 2007, the Gates Foundation joined forces with the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation pledging a joint US$60 million to create Strong American Schools, a nonprofit project responsible for running ED in 08, an initiative and information campaign aimed at encouraging 2008 presidential contenders to include education in their campaign policies.
- Teaching Channel: The Gates Foundation announced in September 2011 a US$3.5 million initiative to launch a multi-platform service delivering professional development videos for teachers over the Internet, public television, cable and other digital outlets. To date, over 500,000 teachers and educators have joined the community to share ideas, lesson plans and teaching methods.
- The Texas High School Project: The project was set out to increase and improve high school graduation rates across Texas. The foundation committed US$84.6 million to the project beginning in 2003. The project focuses its efforts on high-need schools and districts statewide, with an emphasis on urban areas and the Texas-Mexico border.
- University Scholars Program: Donated US$20 million in 1998 to endow a scholarship program at Melinda Gates' alma mater, Duke University. The program provides full scholarships to about 10 members of each undergraduate class and one member in each class in each of the professional schools (schools of medicine, business, law, divinity, environment, nursing, and public policy), as well as to students in the Graduate School pursuing doctoral degrees in any discipline. Graduate and professional school scholars serve as mentors to the undergraduate scholars, who are chosen on the basis of financial need and potential for interdisciplinary academic interests. Scholars are chosen each spring from new applicants to Duke University's undergraduate, graduate, and professional school programs. The program features seminars to bring these scholars together for interdisciplinary discussions and an annual spring symposium organized by the scholars.
- Washington State Achievers Scholarship: The Washington State Achievers program encourages schools to create cultures of high academic achievement while providing scholarship support to select college-bound students.
- William H. Gates Public Service Law Program: This program awards five full scholarships annually to the University of Washington School of Law. Scholars commit to working in relatively low-paying public service legal positions for at least the first five years following graduation.
- University of Texas at Austin: $30 million challenge grant to build the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex.
- STAND UP: a national campaign that seeks to positively impact the current crisis within the United States public education system by calling upon community leaders, parents, students and citizens to encourage change and STAND UP for better schools and the future of America's children. STAND UP was co-founded by the Eli Broad Foundation, and was launched in April 2006 on The Oprah Winfrey Show in a two-part feature.
- Discovery Institute: Donated US$1 million in 2000 to the Discovery Institute and pledged US$9.35 million over 10 years in 2003, including US$50,000 of Bruce Chapman's US$141,000 annual salary. According to a Gates Foundation grant maker, this grant is "exclusive to the Cascadia project" on regional transportation, and it may not be used for the Institute's other activities, including promotion of intelligent design.
- Rainier Scholars: Donated US$1 million.
- Computer History Museum: Donated US$15 million to the museum in October 2005.
Critics say the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has overlooked the links between poverty and poor academic achievement, and has unfairly demonized teachers for poor achievement by underprivileged students. They contend that the Gates Foundation should be embracing anti-poverty and living wage policies rather than pursuing untested and empirically unsupported education reforms.
The foundation trust invests undistributed assets, with the exclusive goal of maximizing the return on investment. As a result, its investments include companies that have been criticized for worsening poverty in the same developing countries where the foundation is attempting to relieve poverty. These include companies that pollute heavily and pharmaceutical companies that do not sell into the developing world. In response to press criticism, the foundation announced in 2007 a review of its investments to assess social responsibility. It subsequently cancelled the review and stood by its policy of investing for maximum return, while using voting rights to influence company practices.
In October 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was split into two entities: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, which manages the endowment assets and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which "... conducts all operations and grantmaking work, and it is the entity from which all grants are made". Also announced was the decision to "... spend all of [the Trust's] resources within 20 years after Bill's and Melinda's deaths". This would close the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust and effectively end the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In the same announcement it was reiterated that Warren Buffett "... has stipulated that the proceeds from the Berkshire Hathaway shares he still owns at death are to be used for philanthropic purposes within 10 years after his estate has been settled".
The plan to close the Foundation Trust is in contrast to most large charitable foundations that have no set closure date. This is intended to lower administrative costs over the years of the Foundation Trust's life and ensure that the Foundation Trust not fall into a situation where the vast majority of its expenditures are on administrative costs, including salaries, with only token amounts contributed to charitable causes.
- In 2006, the foundation won the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.
- In 2007, then-President of India Pratibha Devisingh Patil presented the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
- In recognition for the foundation's philanthropic activities in India, Bill and Melinda Gates jointly received India's third highest civilian honor Padma Bhushan in 2015.
- On November 22, 2016, President Barack Obama honored Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts.
Notes and referencesEdit
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