Bill Gates spends $53.8bn on philanthropy in 20 years

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has promised to tackle climate change and gender equality as the main global issues over the next 20 years.

The international non-governmental organisation, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in an annual letter released yesterday, disclosed that it has expended $53.8 billion over the last 20 years on philanthropic activities.

Gates, an American business magnate, has a net worth of $108.8 billion as of January 2020.

In the 20-page letter titled, “Why we swing for the fences,” the couple reflected on their foundation’s growth since inception in 2000 and espoused their vision for the next two decades.

They, however, expressed dissatisfaction that the huge funds have not met expected effect.

The Gates said: “Altogether, our foundation has spent $53.8 billion over the last 20 years. On the whole, we’re thrilled with what it’s accomplished. But has every dollar we’ve spent had the effect we’ve hoped for? No.

“We’ve had our share of disappointments, setbacks, and surprises. We think it’s important to be transparent about our failures as well as our successes – and it’s important to share what we’ve learned.”

The couple, who were inspired by billionaire Warren Buffett, disclosed that the lion’s share of the foundation’s philanthropy, 45 per cent, went to global development.

According to the letter, 29 per cent of the foundation’s investment was spent on global health while 16 per cent was expended on United States programmes.

Other charitable programmes gulped 10 per cent, they added.

The letter partly read: “When we started our foundation 20 years ago, the world was, in many ways, very different from the one we live in now. It was before 9/11, before the Great Recession, and before the rise of social media.

“Then, as now, there was no shortage of worthy causes, and there was a good argument to be made for investing in many of them. We’d known for a while that we wanted to give away the majority of our wealth from Microsoft and use it to make people’s lives better. The challenge, of course, was how to do that in a meaningful and high-impact way.

“As we were thinking about what our philanthropic priorities would be, we spent a lot of time meeting with experts and poring over reports. What we learned convinced us that the world should be doing more to address the needs of its poorest people.

“At the core of our foundation’s work is the idea that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life. Twenty years later, despite how much things have changed, that is still our most important driving principle.

“There is no question that this new decade is beginning at a time of tremendous unrest and uncertainty around the world. But even in a moment as challenging as this one – in fact, especially in a moment like this one – we remain committed to supporting advocates, researchers, government officials and frontline workers who are making a healthy and productive life possible for more people in more places.

“For the last 20 years, our foundation has focused on improving health around the world and strengthening the public education system in the United States because we believe that health and education are key to a healthier, better and more equal world.

“Disease is both a symptom and a cause of inequality, while public education is a driver of equality. We know that philanthropy can never – and should never – take the place of governments or the private sector. We do believe it has a unique role to play in driving progress, though.

“At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions. Businesses have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders. But foundations like ours have the freedom to test out ideas that might not otherwise get tried, some of which may lead to breakthroughs.

“As always, Warren Buffett – a dear friend and longtime source of great advice – put it a little more colourfully. When he donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation and joined us as a partner in its work, he urged us to ‘swing for the fences.’

“That’s a phrase many Americans will recognize from baseball. When you swing for the fences, you’re putting every ounce of strength into hitting the ball as far as possible. You know that your bat might miss the ball entirely – but that if you succeed in making contact, the rewards can be huge. That’s how we think about our philanthropy, too.

“The goal isn’t just incremental progress. It’s to put the full force of our efforts and resources behind the big bets that, if successful, will save and improve lives.”

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