Home > inequality > Philanthropy in the age of growing inequality

Philanthropy in the age of growing inequality

from David Ruccio


Many of my well-intentioned students are in awe of Bill Gates. He’s a rich guy, a successful businessman, who is giving away a large portion of his income to help solve the world’s economic and social problems through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. What could be more admirable?

I do remind them that it’s Gates alone who gets to decide what the problems are, what the solutions are, and how those solutions will be enacted. We’ve seen that already in the area of education reform. The rest of us have no say in the matter. In other words, it’s the problem of philanthropy in an increasingly unequal country and world.

One of the areas in which the Gates Foundation has been allocating more and more money is food and agriculture, especially the problems of hunger and agricultural production in Africa, guided by the motto of “Listening to farmers and addressing their specific needs.” In 2007, it spent over half a billion dollars on agricultural projects, and has maintained funding at around this level. Since spending so much money gives the foundation significant influence over agricultural research and development agendas, the folks at GRAIN [ht: mfa], a “a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems,” decided to look into where the money is going and what it’s being spent on.

What they discovered is that, first, the Gates Foundation fights hunger in the South by giving money to the North.

Roughly half of the foundation’s grants for agriculture went to four big groupings: the CGIAR’s global agriculture research network, international organisations (World Bank, UN agencies, etc.), AGRA (set up by Gates itself) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The other half ended up with hundreds of different research, development and policy organisations across the world. Of this last group, over 80% of the grants were given to organisations in the US and Europe, 10% went to groups in Africa, and the remainder elsewhere.

Second, the Gates Foundation gives to scientists, not farmers.

the single biggest recipient of grants from the Gates Foundation is the CGIAR, a consortium of 15 international agricultural research centres. In the 1960s and 70s, these centres were responsible for the development and spread of a controversial Green Revolution model of agriculture in parts of Asia and Latin America which focused on the mass distribution of a few varieties of seeds that could produce high yields – with the generous application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

We could find no evidence of any support from the Gates Foundation for programmes of research or technology development carried out by farmers or based on farmers’ knowledge, despite the multitude of such initiatives that exist across the continent.

Third, the Gates Foundation buys political influence.

Does the Gates Foundation use its money to tell African governments what to do? Not directly. The Gates Foundation set up the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa in 2006 and has supported it with $414 million since then. It holds two seats on the Alliance’s board and describes it as the “African face and voice for our work”. . .

AGRA intervenes directly in the formulation and revision of agricultural policies and regulations in Africa on such issues as land and seeds. It does so through national “policy action nodes” of experts, selected by AGRA, that work to advance particular policy changes.

Finally, the Gates Foundation is not listening to farmers.

Listening to someone, if it has any real significance, should also include the intent to learn. But nowhere in the programmes funded by the Gates Foundation is there any indication that it believes that Africa’s small farmers have anything to teach, that they have anything to contribute to research, development and policy agendas. The continent’s farmers are always cast as the recipients, the consumers of knowledge and technology from others. In practice, the foundation’s first guiding principle appears to be a marketing exercise to sell its technologies to farmers. In that, it looks, not surprisingly, a lot like Microsoft.

Thanks to GRAIN, we now have another example of the problem of philanthropy in an age of growing inequality.

  1. November 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Along with Harvard University, Bill Gates is a promoter of inefficient corporatist agriculture, both are evil premeditated facilitators of the African land grab. Bill Gates is heavily involved in the most hated corporation on Earth, Monsanto, and associated with the Blackwater mercenary army through that vile company. Bill and Melinda Gates are also promoting corporatized education in the US.

  2. Herb Wiseman
    November 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    He seems to follow his personal biases and throws money at those ideas he favours — right or wrong, right or left, unexamined and underscrutinized not based on research or science. Thus like many of us not exposed to proper peer feedback, he commits errors of thinking that compound into committing errors of policy and programmes that do not work. The primary problem is that in most human beings thoughts have their foundations in the core beliefs, feelings, and emotions of people. Something grabs his sympathy and uncritically he thinks up a way to intervene. Now do governments do any better? The recent elections of the Republicans in the US suggests that elected government representatives too respond to/exploit the emotions and core beliefs (prejudices and biases) of the voters. The reality in our heads is often not an accurate reflection of the reality outside of our heads. The irony here is that Gates is the former head of a major corporation that develops and sells products that allow data to be analyzed in a critical fashion.

  3. Ack Nice
    November 6, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Excuse me for telling the effing truth, but the problem with bill and melinda gates is not that they don’t know what evil they’re doing, the problem is they know exactly what evil they’re doing – and they’re doing it anyway:

    Click to access depo-provera-deadly-reproductive-violence-rebecca-project-for-human-rights-2013.pdf



    For the time-constrained, start with the second link – a shorter read – but every student who mistakenly thinks the gateses are properly to be admired rather than arrested, tried, and imprisoned for their long history of criminal activities should be assigned to read the whole pdf at the first link.

    ‘Philanthrocapitalist’ is a term devised to conveniently prevent the obvious from being seen for what it is. It is a term of deception conjured to disguise the real fact that wealthpower giants are not givers of anything but miseries unnecessarily imposed on those they choose to condemn to exist perpetually in the house of want. God does not drop the wealth they possess from the sky; every dollar in their treasurechests above fairpay came from others being forced to take underpay for their work. Wealthpower giants are TAKERS, NOT GIVERS – they are in FACT takers of money and wealth it is physically impossible they can have self-earned: they are in fact the recipients of societies’ completely mad overgenerosity to gigarich legal thieves, and the money they purportedly ‘give away’ is absolutely comprised of loot they stole from the working families all over this globe. They give back a tiny fraction of what they stole and people inexplicably call them philanthropists instead of truthfully, realistically identifying them as the thieves they are!


    “I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there no cause for severity? I will be harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.

    “I am in earnest. I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat an inch – AND I WILL BE HEARD. The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and to hasten the resurrection of the dead.

    “The party or sect that will suffer by the triumph of justice cannot exist with safety to mankind. The state that cannot tolerate universal freedom must be despotic; and no valid reason can be given why despotism should not at once be hurled to the dust.

    “The apologist for oppression becomes himself the oppressor. To palliate crime is to be guilty of its perpetration. To ask for a postponement of the case, till a more convenient season, is to call for a suspension of the moral law, and to assume that it is right to do wrong under present circumstances.

    “Has not the experience of two centuries shown that gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice? Is there an instance, in the history of the world, where slaves have been educated for freedom by their taskmasters?

    “With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.”
    -William Lloyd Garrison 1805 – 1879

    Thanks very much for this article, Mr. Ruccio.

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