Brandenburg links to this Seattle Times story from a few days ago that suggests it's time Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation get their own data-driven, metric-measuring system to evaluate their "philanthropic" efforts:
When he took the stage this fall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his signature global health research initiative, Bill Gates used the word “naive” — four times — to describe himself and his charitable foundation.
It was a surprising admission coming from the world’s richest man.
But the Microsoft co-founder seemed humbled that, despite an investment of $1 billion, none of the projects funded under the Gates Foundation’s “Grand Challenges” banner has yet made a significant contribution to saving lives and improving health in the developing world.
“I was pretty naive about how long that process would take,” Gates told a gathering of nearly 1,000 people in Seattle.
Launched with fanfare a decade ago, the original Grand Challenges program mobilized leading scientists to tackle some of the toughest problems in global health. Gates handed out nearly half a billion dollars in grants to 45 “dream teams” of researchers working on everything from tuberculosis drugs and new vaccine strategies to advanced mosquito repellents and bananas genetically engineered to boost nutrition.
But five years in, Gates said he could see that it would be at least another decade before even the most promising of those projects paid off.
Not only did he underestimate some of the scientific hurdles, Gates said. He and his team also failed to adequately consider what it would take to implement new technologies in countries where millions of people lack access to basic necessities such as clean water and medical care.
While continuing to support a handful of the “big science” projects, the foundation in 2008 introduced a program of small, highly focused grants called Grand Challenges Explorations.
With headline-grabbing goals like condoms that feel good and waste-to-energy toilets, the explorations initiative has probably garnered more media attention than anything else the giant philanthropy has undertaken.
But none of those projects has yet borne fruit, either.
At the 10th anniversary meeting, Nobel Prize-winning biologist Harold Varmus urged a foundation known for its obsession with metrics to undertake a critical evaluation of Grand Challenges.
“Was the program actually a success?” asked Varmus, who served on the founding board. “We don’t know.”
I still see laudatory stories about Gates and the Gates Foundation in the media.
Americans in general - and seemingly many elite media people in particular - worship and respect wealth and seem to assume that if a guy could become one of the richest men in the world, he must be one of the smartest too.
But the truth about Gates is, he's no genius.
He's simply a ruthless man who engaged in monopolistic business practices to make Microsoft into the juggernaut it was.
That's not to say that he isn't a smart guy on some things - just to say, he's no visionary with insight into how to fix the world's problems.
The track record of the Gates Foundation bears that out.
Part of the problem is, Gates is a tech guy who thinks tech will fix all.
Another part of the problem is, he's a guy with no social skills and little understanding of the need to bring stakeholders in with his initiatives.
Lastly, he's an authoritarian with an ego the size of Michael Bloomberg's - he thinks he's right on everything and looks to impose his will on others.
These three personal flaws add up to major disaster - we have a billionaire egoist with no social skills who is tunnelvisioned on tech as the only solution to the world's problems.
Bill Gates has been granted a pass for far too long on his "philanthropic" efforts, both in the health field and the education field.
It surely is time that Gates and his merry men and women in philanthropy at the Foundation get some independent measurement of their efforts.
And then, if it's found that they've failed at most (or all) of their philanthropic initiatives, the Foundation can be closed down like a "failing school," and the harm these people are doing can be put to rest.
If measurement of "achievement" is good enough for schools and school districts, as Mr. Gates says it is, than surely it is good enough for his Gates Foundation programs and initiatives too?