Gauging Impact of Gates Grants

Five years ago, Bill Gates made an extraordinary offer: he invited the world’s scientists to submit ideas for tackling the biggest problems in global health, including the lack of vaccines for AIDS and malaria, the fact that most vaccines must be kept refrigerated and be delivered by needles, the fact that many tropical crops like cassavas and bananas had little nutrition, and so on.

No idea was too radical, he said.

About 1,600 proposals came in, and the top 43 were so promising that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made $450 million in five-year grants — more than double what he originally planned to give.

Now the five years are up, and the foundation recently brought all the scientists to Seattle to assess the results and decide who will get further funding.

In an interview, Mr. Gates said, “We were na├»ve when we began.” He underestimated, he said, how long it takes to get a new product from the lab to clinical trials to low-cost manufacturing to acceptance in third-world countries.

Over all, he said: “On drawing attention to ways that lives might be saved through scientific advances, I’d give us an A. But I thought some would be saving lives by now, and it’ll be more like in 10 years from now.”

New York Times


Increased World Bank Pledge to Poor Nations

Officials meeting in Brussels this week agreed to contribute nearly $50 billion over the next three years to the World Bank fund dedicated to the globe's poorest countries.The 18 percent boost marked the arrival of some previous aid recipients as donors.

Britain, which topped the United States last year as the largest single donor, said it had promised $4.2 billion over the next three years. British officials said that represents a nearly 25 percent increase in local currency at a time when the government in London is pressing painful spending and benefits cuts on its citizens.

The fund, known as the International Development Association, supports health, education, food security and building programs through grants and long-term, interest-free loans to the world's 79 least-developed countries. The fund is replenished every three years at a donors conference. This year it marked a record for giving, with 51 countries agreeing to contribute.

The money, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said, will translate into an estimated 200 million child immunizations, better health and water for tens of millions of people, training for millions of teachers, and the construction of nearly 50,000 miles of roads and train tracks.

Washington Post


Global poverty doubled since 1970s

The number of very poor countries has doubled in the last 30 to 40 years, while the number of people living in extreme poverty has also grown two-fold, a UN think-tank warned.

In its annual report on the 49 least developed countries (LDCs) in the world, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that the model of development that has prevailed to date for these countries has failed and should be re-assessed.

The report indicated that the situation has sharply deteriorated in the past few years.



Social networking and slacktivists

Raising money through social networks is inherently unpredictable. Sometimes a message will resonate with the online hordes, and other times it will fall flat; in the same way that nobody can predict which YouTube video will go viral.

The question of whether the Internet has revolutionized activism and altruism, or whether its potential for nonprofits has been exaggerated, is a heated one among people in philanthropy. In a widely circulated article in The New Yorker magazine recently, the writer Malcolm Gladwell argued that social networks encourage people to express sympathy for various causes — solidarity with democracy activists in Iran or genocide victims in Darfur, for instance — but that Twitter and Facebook do not compel us to do anything practical beyond that, like giving money.

His claim was not novel. People who raise money online have a derisive term for the slackers who paper their Facebook walls and Twitter feeds with vociferous support for sympathetic causes but fail to do anything else to help. They’re called “slacktivists.”

Nonprofits who successfully raise money online say that the slacktivism problem is overblown. The organizations that can deliver say they are discovering that people do not remain slackers forever. In other words, they can be converted into donors, volunteers and even offline activists.

[The New York Times]


The Paradox of Deaths and Drama Impacting Donors

Five weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 48 aid groups polled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy had collected three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Five weeks after the flooding in Pakistan, a similar poll found 32 aid groups had collected just $25 million.

“Pakistan was left rather alone in the most devastating flood in its history,” said Farooq Tariq, a human rights activist long accustomed to helping hapless civilians through Pakistani disasters.

It was hard for activists like Mr. Tariq not to look back at how the world had responded to the other major catastrophe in 2010 — the devastating earthquake that flattened much of Haiti and killed an estimated 250,000. The Pakistan floods affected 20 million, who now need food, shelter and clothing to face a harsh Pakistani winter. The entire population of Haiti, by contrast, is fewer than 10 million people.

Humanitarians have long struggled with this paradox. The number of dead, along with the swiftness and drama of their demise, trumps almost any amount of agony among those who survive a disaster, particularly a creeping one.

“Donors use the number of deaths as a barometer with disasters,” said Randy Strash, strategy director for disaster response at World Vision. “When you have a slow-onset disaster, like the flooding in Pakistan, which accumulated for three weeks and sustained for much longer, you don’t have that same shock value.”

The needs in Pakistan remain dire. Pledges of aid amount to just 40 percent of the total required, according to the United Nations.

[The New York Times]


World sleeps as Haiti suffers

Leveled by an earthquake, staggered by a cholera outbreak and, now, lashed by a hurricane, Haiti remains a country in dire need of critical care and sustained aid. Instead, it has been shoved once again onto the backburner of international neglect and left to its own misery.

Of the billions pledged at the United Nations to rebuild Haiti, barely a fifth of the total, around $1.3 billion, has been approved or dispersed by donors. In some cases - including, scandalously, in the United States - all or part of the funds has been held up by lawmakers or bureaucrats. Of the $1.15 billion Washington promised for long-term reconstruction projects, only a trickle has been received so far in Haiti.

The heart of the problem, in Washington and in other donor countries, is that rebuilding Haiti has been treated as a routine development task, akin to improving an irrigation system or extending rural electrification. This makes no sense given the extent of ruination, the scale of needed reconstruction and the ongoing humanitarian suffering in Haiti.