No. 57, May 2014

No. 57
(May 2014):

The Real Agenda of the Gates Foundation

The Real Agenda of the Gates Foundation

— Jacob Levich*

“You're trying to find the places where the money will have the most leverage, how you can save the most lives for the dollar, so to speak,” Pelley remarked. “Right. And transform the societies,” Gates replied.1

In 2009 the self-designated “Good Club” – a gathering of the world’s wealthiest people whose collective net worth then totaled some $125 billion – met behind closed doors in New York City to discuss a coordinated response to threats posed by the global financial crisis. Led by Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and David Rockefeller, the group resolved to find new ways of addressing sources of discontent in the developing world, in particular “overpopulation” and infectious diseases.2 The billionaires in attendance committed to massive spending in areas of interest to themselves, heedless of the priorities of national governments and existing aid organizations.3

Details of the secret summit were leaked to the press and hailed as a turning point for Big Philanthropy. Traditional bureaucratic foundations like Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie were said to be giving way to “philanthrocapitalism,” a muscular new approach to charity in which the presumed entrepreneurial skills of billionaires would be applied directly to the world’s most pressing challenges:

Today’s philanthrocapitalists see a world full of big problems that they, and perhaps only they, can and must put right.  … Their philanthropy is “strategic,” “market conscious,” “impact oriented,” “knowledge based,” often “high engagement,” and always driven by the goal of maximizing the “leverage” of the donor’s money. … [P]hilanthrocapitalists are increasingly trying to find ways of harnessing the profit motive to achieve social good.4

Wielding “huge power that could reshape nations according to their will,”5 billionaire donors would now openly embrace not only the market-based theory, but also the practices and organizational norms, of corporate capitalism. Yet the overall thrust of their charitable interventions would remain consistent with longstanding traditions of Big Philanthropy, as discussed below:


I. The World’s Largest Private Foundation
II. Foundations and Imperialism
III.Gates and Big Pharma
IV. A Broader Agenda


*Jacob Levich,, has written on imperialist military strategy for Aspects No. 42. He lives in New York City and tweets as @cordeliers. (back)



1. “The Gates Foundation: Giving Away a Fortune,” CBS 60 Minutes, Sept. 30, 2010, (back)

2. Paul Harris, “They’re Called The Good Club – And They Want to Save the World,” Guardian, May 30, 2009, (back)

3. Andrew Clark, “US Billionaires Club Together,” Guardian, Aug. 4, 2010, (back)

4. Matthew Bishop and Michael Green, Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World (2008), pp. 3, 6. (back)

5. Harris, op cit. (back)


All material © copyright 2015 by Research Unit for Political Economy