CONCERNED about the "significant suffering" caused by global setbacks, including the Covid-19 pandemic, Bill Gates announced on Wednesday he would donate $20 billion to his foundation so it could increase its annual spending.
The donation, combined with longtime board member Berkshire Hathaway Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Warren Buffett's $3.1-billion gift last month, brings The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's endowment to approximately $70 billion, making it one of the world's largest. In an essay on the foundation's website, the Microsoft co-founder said he hoped "others in positions of great wealth and privilege will step up in this moment, too."
The Gates Foundation plans to raise its annual budget by 50 percent over pre-pandemic levels to about $9 billion by 2026. It hopes the increased spending would improve education, reduce poverty and reinstate the global progress toward ending preventable disease and achieving gender equality that has been halted in recent years.
According to the United Nations Development Program, 71 million people have been pushed into poverty since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, mainly due to food and energy price surges. Households in the Balkans, the Caspian Sea region and Sub-Saharan Africa have been hit particularly hard. The UN World Food Program reports that the number of acutely hungry people is now 345 million, up 25 percent since the start of the war in Ukraine.
"Despite huge global setbacks in the past few years, I see incredible heroism and sacrifice all over the world, and I believe progress is possible," Bill Gates, the foundation's co-chairman, said in a statement. "But the great crises of our time require all of us to do more... "
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"I hope by giving more, we can mitigate some of the suffering people are facing right now and help fulfill the foundation's vision to give every person the chance to live a healthy and productive life," he added.
Co-chairman Melinda French Gates said the additional spending would help provide a more "fair and inclusive recovery."
"Philanthropy has a unique role to play in helping people around the world recover from the pandemic and rebuild the underlying systems that left so many so vulnerable to begin with," French Gates said in a statement.
At the "Hunger Pains: The Growing Global Food Crisis" webinar on Monday, Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman said two decades of advances had been halted by the current global crises spawned by Russia's invasion of its pro-West neighbor. However, the growth in agricultural productivity around the world remains mostly in place.
"We have the tools. We have the science. We have the knowledge," Suzman said. "What we need is the political will and the resources."
Those resources include donations from philanthropic organizations. The Gates Foundation invests heavily in connecting agricultural advancements with the right countries, offering drought-resistant maize seeds or flood-resistant rice to the areas that can use them most, the chief executive said.
However, philanthropy has its limitations, he added.
Suzman said the response from the world's wealthiest countries had not only fallen short of what was currently needed, but also of what the world provided a decade ago during a similar crisis.
"This is our most critical area of opportunity for human solidarity," he added. "That actually has knock-on effects to provide better political stability and broader economic growth, which is what I think everybody wants to see."