THIS YEAR’S PHILANTHROPY CELEBRITIES: EVALUATING BMGF

The personal changes in the Gates family have prompted a lot of analyses of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). There’s lots of speculation about changes in governance, spin-offs, and the endowment. Most of all, there’s been new scrutiny of the BMGF’s overall grantmaking effectiveness and their treatment of beneficiaries.

First off, BMGF is a great organization. In a few short years, they vibrantly transformed institutional philanthropy, re-invented philanthropic collaborations, and offered a much better model for funders to become proactive. These changes dramatically altered 21st-century institutional philanthropy.

HOWEVER…

since the Foundation’s inception in the early 90s, scholars, funders, and grantseekers have voiced concerns about its handling of educators, parents, and students; malaria/measles victims; and farmers touched by BMGF’s African Green Revolution.

Like many things philanthropic, Minnesota played a quiet, but noteworthy, role in this BMGF “ultimate beneficiary” analysis. Three years ago, a young researcher from University of Minnesota studied how BMGF’s African Green Revolution treated African farmer-beneficiaries.

Since Dr. Rachel Shurman’s publication of this work in World Development in 2018, many scholars worldwide have affirmed her conclusions about how BMGF treat African farmer and have suggested the beneficiary treatment patterns that Dr. Schurman found could also be seen in other Gates projects, and in fact, in several other mega funders’ grantmaking work.

These are three of the beneficiary-treatment patterns that concerned Dr. Schurman and other researchers about Gates and other mega funders

The “culture of smartness” that characterizes the BMGF distances and insulates its staff from the field
BMGF treats farmers as passive objects of development rather than as complex social actors
Through its norms, interactions, and demands, BMGF shapes other development organizations’ priorities and practices.

Sound familiar? These very smart and very well-meaning mega funders need to better track the impact of their work on the ultimate beneficiaries.

The Fluff-Free Point: While Dr. Schurman wasn’t focused on changes in philanthropy, many of the recent challenges to grantmakers for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion are constructed on Dr. Shurman’s work. We thank her.

AND REALLY… Have Melinda & Bill considered just unplugging and rebooting?