Posted by: Admin | October 19, 2010

The New Philanthropy



Jimmy Carter


Former US President, Jimmy Carter, is quoted as saying “We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry.” I don’t think anyone would disagree with that, though it seems to have existed for a long time in that state. Carter has spent his time, post office, concerning himself with “Waging Peace” via his foundation, The Carter Centre. He also is attributed with: “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. People have the right to expect that these wants will be provided for by this wisdom.” Well… fine, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this being put into practice outside the world’s think tanks and Foreign Policy rhetoric.

It is left to individuals, therefore, to “wage peace”, particularly wealthy individuals who have embraced philanthropy as means by which to “give back” to society. “Giving back” is a desire often expressed by the over fifties who feel they have reached the full extent of their potential in the workplace, or who simply feel they want to share their time and/or money with those for whom life is more difficult.

The poster boy for the new spirit of philanthropy is Microsoft Founder, Bill Gates who, with his wife, Melinda, is currently in the UK to promote the work of their Foundation. Through this vehicle, their avowed aim is to give away 95% of their wealth to further their work.

There is a tendency to sneer at the likes of Bill Gates – tall poppy syndrome, maybe? – and denigrate him for the perception that giving serves his ego. I don’t know why we (especially here in the UK) have cynicism as a default in these matters – perhaps that should be the subject of another blog. What I do know is that the work Bill and Melinda Gates are doing, using their wealth to harness science and technology for the good of the world’s poorest whilst drawing in other wealthy individuals to share their worldly good fortune, is effecting real change for those they help.

As individuals we can only change the world one person at a time. We can all do our bit, no matter how small that bit has to be, financially. If we are individuals with the wealth of the Gates, we have a responsibility to try to plug the gaps that government aid leaves. To be able to bring their business savvy and social influence to bear in such a worthy way is a gift and I salute them both for choosing to use it.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the work of the Gates Foundation do click the link. For a video of their interview with Breakfast on BBC One on 18th October, where they talk about their motivation and their desire for their children to make their own way in the world, (a concept in this hollow world of celebrity worship, interesting in itself) follow the link at the end of the page. The following is from the Gates Foundation website:

Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates

Bill and Melinda Gates attend a women's microfinance group meeting, Abuja, Nigeria, 2006. Photo: P. Panjiar
Bill and Melinda Gates at Lee High School during the Texas learning tour (Houston, Texas, 2008).

Our friend and co-trustee Warren Buffett once gave us some great advice about philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said. “Take on the really tough problems.”

We couldn’t agree more. Our foundation is teaming up with partners around the world to take on some tough problems: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, the failures of America’s education system. We focus on only a few issues because we think that’s the best way to have great impact, and we focus on these issues in particular because we think they are the biggest barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives.

For each issue we work on, we fund innovative ideas that could help remove these barriers: new techniques to help farmers in developing countries grow more food and earn more money; new tools to prevent and treat deadly diseases; new methods to help students and teachers in the classroom. Some of the projects we fund will fail. We not only accept that, we expect it—because we think an essential role of philanthropy is to make bets on promising solutions that governments and businesses can’t afford to make. As we learn which bets pay off, we have to adjust our strategies and share the results so everyone can benefit.

We’re both optimists. We believe by doing these things—focusing on a few big goals and working with our partners on innovative solutions—we can help every person get the chance to live a healthy, productive life.

Bill and Melinda Gates' signature

Bill Gates and Melinda F. Gates



  1. Jimmy Carter will go down in history as a great man. Although I don’t agree with his religious beliefs he seems to have overcome them with wisdom. I don’t agree with any church people but I like Jimmy.

    We will have to wait and see how governments work out when a “long time” has passed. In the grand scheme of things humans haven’t been around a “long time” yet. Reaching long time status is hard. Ask any dinosaur.

    People who belittle the Gates don’t understand giving. The Gates don’t get anymore gratification from giving billions that I do five dollars. The problem for them is that at the level they are working they can see it is still a drop in the bucket. For me it is a given and I keep on anyway. For them it has to be terribly frustrating to have so much and still be able to do so little. I certainly appreciate their efforts. I’m not sure I would have the strength.

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