Does the Gates Foundation do more harm than good?

Added: 08-14-2018

Questioning the overall positive versus negative impact of private philanthropy, the author refers frequently to Linsey McGoey’s book, No Such Thing as a Free Gift. This critical exploration of the Gates Foundation and others suggests that foundations should engage in significant self-reflection and solicit external review to offset the obvious and increasing imbalance of money and power in the philanthropy industry.

Africa is a Country social impact independent business and industry human rights Gates Foundation philanthrocapitalism structural inequality business model Ford Foundation foundations Linsey McGoey oversight policymaking

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
blog 6 minutes CAITLIN L CHANDLER 12-16-2015
Type Reading Time
blog 6 minutes
Author Date
caitlin l chandler 2018-08-14 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways

  • As private philanthropists have closer involvement in more of the details of their charitable enterprises, the author expresses concern they will lose input in decision-making processes from a variety of people with deeper knowledge in multiple areas. 
  • Private philanthropies’ frequently have greater requirements for measures of success, like those used in the business world, and these requirements may inhibit innovative ideas. 
  • The Gates Foundation and others lack independent reviews of their overall impact, and therefore may not be held accountable for the lives they affect. 
  • Other foundations, example given is the Ford Foundation, have changed their philanthropic approach away from that of strictly business to measuring results in terms of actual change-making.


Beginning with the difficulty for unknown nonprofit organizations to even get heard by the Gates Foundation let alone secure funding, author Caitlin Chandler decries the influence wielded by Gates and other private foundations in the world of international philanthropy. Relying heavily on sociologist Linsey McGoey’s book, No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy, Chandler discusses “the rise of foundations in the U.S.,“ their lack of independent oversight, and some suggestions for improvement. In her book, McGoey reportedly discusses the history of private foundations’ paternalistic approach to providing support, the rise of what the author terms “ ‘philanthrocapitalism’ – applying business models to giving” and its potential to overlook innovative solutions, and the current level of power held by these wealthy organizations. 

According to Chandler, the second half of McGoey’s book focuses specifically on the Gates Foundation. Probing the organization’s “major areas of investment – education in the U.S., global health and agriculture,” McGoey concentrates on areas that seem to need improvement, such as lack of external accountability, a seeming lack of human rights considerations on some sponsored projects, the ethical question of private sector actors having such a significant role on the creation of public policy, and an assessment of “its own role in perpetuating structural inequality.” Chandler suggests that determining the harms as well as the benefits of the foundation’s activities is “urgently needed.” She also reports on how the Ford Foundation is acting as a positive role model by reassessing its strategic priorities and doing “everything possible to address economic inequality,” even at the expense of its self interest. Chandler suggests it’s time for the Gates Foundation to start listening outside of their normal sphere, to long-term advocates for social justice, to learn about practical community-based solutions to social problems. 


Writer and editor Caitlin L Chandler for Africa is a Country: