Bill and Melinda Gates an­swer ‘tough’ ques­tions – in­clud­ing about Trump and US giv­ing


SEAT­TLE (The Seat­tle Times) – The an­nual let­ter from Bill and Melinda Gates usu­ally paints a rosy view, with care­fully cu­rated suc­cess sto­ries from the bat­tle against global dis­ease and poverty, and praise for new tech­nolo­gies backed by the Gates Foun­da­tion.

But for this year, the co-founders of the world’s rich­est phi­lan­thropy have in­stead opted to an­swer a se­lec­tion of crit­i­cal and skep­ti­cal ques­tions about the foun­da­tion’s work and the power it wields.

Among them: “Why don’t you give more in the United States?” “Does sav­ing kids’ lives lead to over­pop­u­la­tion?” And “Is it fair that you have so much in­flu­ence?”

The cou­ple also ad­dress the im­pact of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his poli­cies, a topic about which both have been largely cir­cum­spect.

“I be­lieve one of the du­ties of the pres­i­dent of the United States is to role model Amer­i­can val­ues in the world,” Melinda Gates wrote. “I wish our pres­i­dent would treat peo­ple, and es­pe­cially women, with more re­spect when he speaks and tweets.”

Bill Gates said he’s con­cerned by Trump’s fo­cus on “Amer­ica First,” and his pro­posal to slash for­eign aid fund­ing.

“The world is not a safer place when more peo­ple are sick or hun­gry,” Gates wrote.

Although the Gates Foun­da­tion has worked with ev­ery pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion since its found­ing, Bill Gates said they “dis­agree with this ad­min­is­tra­tion more than the oth­ers.”

On the ques­tion of phi­lan­thropy at home, the they ac­knowl­edge that the $500 mil­lion they spend in the United States each year – mostly on ed­u­ca­tion – pales com­pared to the $4 bil­lion the foun­da­tion spends in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. That re­flects the foun­da­tion’s con­vic­tion that it can save more lives in poorer coun­tries, where in­vest­ments in sim­ple so­lu­tions like vac­cines can have big pay­offs.

But the they also say they are look­ing for ways to ex­pand their work in the United States, par­tic­u­larly to help peo­ple move up the eco­nomic lad­der.

Last fall, the cou­ple, who are bet­ter known for vis­it­ing vil­lages in Africa and In­dia, took a trip to At­lanta to learn more about the lives of poor Amer­i­cans. Res­i­dents of an apart­ment com­plex pointed out mold grow­ing on the walls and ex­plained how they hide their chil­dren in the bath­tub when gun­fire breaks out. A sin­gle mom de­scribed how she was evicted from her apart­ment while in the hos­pi­tal with her new­born son.

“The visit made us think through other ways we could help peo­ple get out of poverty,” Bill Gates wrote. “We haven’t de­cided how what we’ve been learn­ing might af­fect our giv­ing, but it has cer­tainly had an ef­fect on us.”

IN THE United States, the Gates Foun­da­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams have met with re­sis­tance and crit­i­cism, as re­flected by a ques­tion in the let­ter that asks: “What do you have to show for the bil­lions you’ve spent?”

“A lot, but not as much as ei­ther of us would like,” Bill Gates an­swered.

Af­ter an early push to cut class­room size didn’t pan out, the foun­da­tion sup­ported pro­grams to boost low-per­form­ing high schools and eval­u­ate teach­ers. Now, in­stead of im­pos­ing cer­tain ap­proaches, the foun­da­tion is work­ing with schools to de­velop lo­cal strate­gies to help stu­dents suc­ceed.

The ques­tion of sav­ing chil­dren ver­sus over­pop­u­la­tion in poor coun­tries is one that Melinda Gates said she and her hus­band asked them­selves early in the foun­da­tion’s his­tory. The an­swer may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, she wrote, but the ev­i­dence is clear in his­tor­i­cal birth trends from around the world.

“When more chil­dren live past the age of five, and when moth­ers can de­cide if and when to have chil­dren, pop­u­la­tion sizes don’t go up. They go down,” the let­ter says.

Melinda Gates also ac­knowl­edged that the foun­da­tion wields out­sized in­flu­ence be­cause of her fam­ily’s vast wealth. An anal­y­sis by the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies es­ti­mated that Amer­ica’s three rich­est peo­ple – Jeff Be­zos, Bill Gates and War­ren Buf­fett – have more money than the 160 mil­lion Amer­i­cans at the bot­tom of the eco­nomic lad­der com­bined.

Wealth opens doors that are closed to most peo­ple, Melinda Gates wrote.

“World lead­ers tend to take our phone calls se­ri­ously... Cash-strapped school dis­tricts are more likely to di­vert money and tal­ent to­ward ideas they think we will fund.”

But she and Bill Gates both ar­gue that they strive to use their in­flu­ence to help as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble and to act as an in­cu­ba­tor for in­no­va­tive ap­proaches.

“Although we have had some suc­cess,” Melinda Gates wrote, “I think it would be hard to ar­gue at this point that we made the world fo­cus too much on health, ed­u­ca­tion and poverty.”

(Chris­tian Liewig/Abaca Press/TNS)

BILL GATES leaves the El­y­see Palace in Paris last year dur­ing the One Planet Sum­mit.

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