Does size matter?

Robyn Scott

Thanks must go to Alliance for highlighting one of the most challenging of all issues in philanthropy – the power and influence of significant size; and the freedom that philanthropy enjoys where accountability is not required from voters or shareholders. Posing such questions is rare and generally occurs behind closed doors. What a pleasure to witness the compendium of insightful comments, constructive criticism, questions and legitimate concerns.

Bill and Melinda Gates are giving on a scale that many can only imagine. In doing so, they have made choices. Several contributors argue that the choices they have made mean they are failing to address other areas that may be equally or more pressing. That may be, but I would argue governments do much the same in making choices about priority areas. They may be more accountable as voters make their choices known, but even in a democratic process the views of the majority can be skewed by government ‘spin’, which quite easily becomes the call of the masses – policy developed without evidence is easily saleable to a significant portion of the population.

The Gates Foundation has done what many would urge: find a focus, and be clear about what you will and won’t fund. With good stewardship and wise philanthropic leadership over time and a commitment to being informed by evidence, research and a range of opinions, they have the potential to achieve what governments may never do or may not choose to. Indeed, they have the ability and the might to focus quite specifically in quite narrow areas and bring about significant change and improvement.

The resources of the Gates Foundation are indeed huge and have the potential to do harm, but there is little compelling evidence that this is the case. But raising difficult questions is a critical role of peers in philanthropy, and one must hope that the critical analyses provided by contributors form part of the accountability mix for the Gates Foundation. Encouraging thoughtful generosity is the business many of us are in: Ka pai (Good on you), Gates Foundation; let’s hope you manage to encourage many more of the world’s wealthy to contribute to a different tomorrow. And keep asking the hard questions, Alliance.

Robyn Scott
CEO, Philanthropy New Zealand

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