The Power of Bill Gates

Let me qualify this post by saying that I am posing a question, not an outright criticism.

But I can’t help but wonder…who is Bill Gates and how is he is changing the face of the world not only with his money but also with his opinions on development policy and his access to world leaders?

Gates is a famous businessman (formerly the world’s richest) and, since 2006, a full-time  philanthropist.  And, thinking about it, this is one powerful guy.

Yesterday, February 24th, Gates committed $200 million dollars to helping small farmers in developing regions. As he addressed the participants in a meeting of the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome, he criticized U.N. food agencies for having outdated and ineffective practices.

Last month, Mr. Gates announced to those present at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that his foundation would pledge $750 to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The increase foundation’s funding, as it were, is filling the gap left by the nations that typically contribute to the fund and have had to scale back due to the world recession.

Gates, as we know, is Chairman of the world’s largest foundation, with assets of around $37 billion dollars. There is no doubt they do a great many things to improve global health, alleviate poverty, and improve education.

Consider, for a moment, that the international giving of the Gates Foundation rivals that of some nations. The most recent International Grantmaking Update reports the Gates foundation accounts for 40% of all U.S. foundations’ international giving. In 2008, that amount was $2.7 billion in international grants.* That is on par with Denmark and actually more than Switzerland’s or Ireland’s total global funding for official development assistance the same year.

Bill Gates is a global force. His money supports the continuance of certain development policies and programs. His assessments and opinions may– and probably do to some degree– affect actual practices. He meets, greets, and eats with the most powerful world leaders and policymakers.

Gates is a famous businessman and, yes, global philanthropist.

But is he also qualified as a statesman?

What do you think? Should Gates (or any individual philanthropist) have so much access to decision-makers and influence on global development policy?


*Note: The year 2008  seems like a while ago, but it’s actually the most recent update on international grantmaking, as there is a lag in data collection. A new update should be coming out any time now in the early months of 2012.


2 responses to this post.

  1. To whom much is given, much is required.
    Gates (using your example) has enormous funds available and has proven himself in business worldwide. This certainly gives him an audience with leaders — we have a need; he has what we need. I would say this audience allows him opportunity for influence. For example, suppose he wants to initiate the Gates plan in a community, but the organization does not follow his thinking. They are free to decline his generous offer of funding and the Gates plan. On the other hand, if they lack discretion, the organization may take the funding and allow their mission to be skewed by the Gates mission.
    In other words, the character and wisdom of the parties involved will determine whether global policy will be selfishly manipulated or driven with wise and innovative solutions.
    Great topic.


    • Thanks for your comment, aclairmont! Yes, I agree it is oftentimes a struggle in the nonprofit word to decide from whom to accept money (say Phillip Morris or British Petroleum or Union Carbide or Etc.) and also the degree to which that money affects one’s own mandate. It’s a struggle, ain’t it? Money buys you (Bill) influence. It’s the way of the world. And Bill, he’s influential!!


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