The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said on August 9th it was giving $500 million to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, by far its biggest grant to the fund. Gates is the richest man in the world. Gates is widely considered one of the world’s most influential people. And, especially, he is the co-founder, chairman, shareholder, former chief software architect, and former CEO of Microsoft.
Bill is known as the ‘terrific’ star of the proprietary software. Since the 1980s, Gates and his company have been the focus of much controversy in the computer industry: most criticism has been for its business tactics, perceive as unfair and anti-competitive. For example, Microsoft embraces and extends technologies, only to create a new competing standard, writing their own incompatible version of the standard (e.g. Java, OpenDocument, Internet Explorer). Microsoft works against interoperability, does a lot of FUD about free software, supports Digital Rights Management (DRM), software patents and Trusted Computing (TCPA/Palladium etc.). Microsoft is also a synonym of bugs and security holes. That is, Gates is for a lot of computer scientists a nightmare.
Is it possible that Gates, the bad guy of software and the frightening marketing champion, is a real philanthropist outside of technology? It is not so obvious. Well, giving a lot of his money for health is a very good thing. We will always need money to fight against diseases and viruses. The money given by Gates will help the research and a lot of people. But let’s analyze this philanthropy in detail.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in 2006 the largest (richest) charitable foundation in the world. Founded by Bill Gates in 2000, its aim is to provide life-saving health care products and technology for the poorest parts of the world. On the foundation values page, we can read that « science and technology have great potential to improve lives around the world ». Why not, but, when Gates wants to help people with technology, does it means he wants spread the happiness with his technological products? Another thing, Gates and his private foundation are more and more important is the ‘charity world’. For example, because of his giving to The Global Fund, he was speaking at the opening of the 16th international conference on HIV and Aids, being held in Toronto (Canada) in August. It is normal, that a computer scientist billionaire opens such a conference?
So, the giving of Gates is a not a bad thing, but it is not as spectacular as we can read in the newspaper. The giving is very big, but in fact, a lot of people do giving in their life, and the rate wages/giving can be the same. Another point, today the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as largest charitable organization, has 5 times more budget than World Health Organization. So private Gates foundation helps kindly public organizations. Governments, with big companies and financial institution, have developed since 30 years liberal politics which are minimizing the social services and the solidarity; shareholders are sometimes more powerful than states and international health organization. And the causes of the ineffectiveness of the states are just the same as those which have permit to people like Bill Gates to build disproportionate fortunes! When there is no more solidarity, a kind billionaire comes and offers charity, and we have to make him a hug, hmm?
This is not the only issue. A foundation like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation defines its own goal, which can be different from the national public health policy of a country. With putting a lot of money in a direction, often more than the budget of the local Department of Health, a philanthropist can modify seriously the health priority. Instead of giving money to the Red Cross or a local government that know the issues and the way of solving them, this is money coming from another continent without knowing half of the local context.
Obviously, the philanthropy of Gates is also matter of corporate image and branding for Microsoft and himself. Sometimes, this may be also just business. Recently, India bought a lot of Microsoft products just after Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave a lot of money for health. Coincidence?
In conclusion, the famous philanthropists are not always the angels that they claim to be. For example, Bono, lead singer of rock band U2, known for his humanitarian involvement (he has also his own foundation ONE Campaign), moved his accounts base to Amsterdam in order to avoid tax payable on artists royalties – a tax that artists in Ireland wouldn’t have had to pay up to recently.