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Gates Letter Presses Case for Polio Drive, Sustaining Aid

By Susan Carey Dempsey on January 31, 2011One Comment

In his third annual letter on Philanthropy, released this morning, Bill Gates  placed the emphasis on his commitment to the fight to eradicate polio. In recent days, Gates has lined up major partners in this global effort, including the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the UK Government, which has committed to a doubling in polio spending. Noting the pressures on governments around the world to slash budgets, Gates urged them to follow the UK example, whether out of humanitarian concern or enlightened self-interest: 


Under David Cameron’s leadership, the United Kingdom set a great example by keeping its promise to grow aid spending despite the cuts it had to make. It is inspiring to see a leader stand up for what he believes is right, even when it isn’t easy. 

Gates released the letter with a speech at the home of the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, calling attention to the March of Dimes campaign Roosevelt had helped to launch. Stricken with polio himself, Roosevelt inspired this grassroots campaign which helped fund the search for vaccines that eventually defeated polio in the US.  Today, Gates encouraged supporters to engage in the online equivalent by visiting the site of Rotary International and clicking on the End Polio Now button. Rotary has been a leader in the global effort to vaccinate children against polio, and is collaborating in the current effort with the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and UNICEF.

Child receiving polio vaccine.
Image via Wikipedia

Vaccines are well-known to be Bill Gates’ passion, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested heavily in this area. They are currently committed to spending $10 billion over 10 years in what they’ve dubbed the Decade of Vaccines. Today’s letter cites the GAVI Alliance as making major strides to increase the distribution of vaccines to poor nations. He is pointed in pressing governments to match current efforts to accomplish more in this area:

…generous aid is required to realize the true lifesaving potential of vaccines. The most direct way of saying this is that every $2,000 cut in the most effective aid spending causes a child to die.

Gates lists several other areas that have been the focus of his foundation, with Warren Buffett joining Bill and Melinda Gates in urging other individuals to commit a greater portion of their wealth to philanthropy through their Giving Pledge effort. In addition to the development and distribution of vaccines, he prioritizes reduction in neonatal deaths, supporting improvements in agriculture in the developing world, and strengthening education here in the US.

The Gates Foundation has inevitably drawn attention, occasionally tinged with criticism, by making massive commitments to the trial end error needed to advance humanitarian concerns. While debate about its philanthropy is healthy, it should not serve to deter other potential philanthropists from approaching giving with the same focus and fervor that keeps the Gates Foundation restlessly searching for the best ways to make powerful impact.

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One Comment »

  • sally says:

    The richest man in the world asks for more effort and donations for his non-profit worthy cause? That’s a laugh.

    Let’s point a few things out that perhaps His Office-Management team does not exactly want their esteemed leader to know. Try this: The CEO has lots of money and sits atop of the pyramid, but with the needy people at the bottom (the target of his philanthropy), the non-profit money is little-by-little nibbled away by middle-management “expenses” until there is very little left to helping the poor. The not-for-profit “middle-management” with their fancy offices, A/C, BMW’s; the local governments with their junkets and unneeded inspections and reports, transport fees, legal fees, and so on, all take their cut as the money slowly trickles down. Until there is very little in the pot for those that genuinely need it. So, what does the enlightened CEO do of such an organization? Well, he asks others to help. We all know the story, and it’s an old one.

    Why not “invade” a country with an “army” of qualified medics that have an “armory” of needles and vaccines and pills? This is how wars are won. This won’t happen because of power, corruption and greed. Surely one could find, in America, today, 10,000 unemployed qualified Medics, who would join such a cause for an average monthly wage? ; and surely one could also buy and produce needles and medical needs for a national-vaccine drive, all for less than a billion dollars ? Who needs 50 Billion, when one Billion will do ?

    When the richest people have monthly house-hold bills that exceed the yearly income of a family they are trying to “save,” then we must frown upon their requests for aid, and if not frown, then show scorn.

    Structured philanthropy may be good on paper, and its cause may be worthy, but genuine philanthropy requires intimate knowledge of ground-level, root-level every-day experiences of what it is one is trying to accomplish. Genuine requests for aid made by those that need it, for the simplest of things, rarely are read by these philanthropic organizations. Usually it’s because they have made several grammatical mistakes in the first paragraph of their requests for a few bottles of rubbing alcohol, or maybe the “distribution officer” of such funds is permanently out at a local fund-raiser. So true this is.

    Flags flying on the front of big black cars with the windows wound up and staying in the local village Ritz hotel is just about as close as Bill Gates will ever get to knowing where his philanthropic investments are ending up.

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