The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation) was formed in 2000 by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda. Its total assets of over $40 billion (as of year-end 2015) make the Gates Foundation the largest private philanthropic foundation in the world.
The Gates Foundation spends five percent of its endowment on programs and advocacy concerning education, health, poverty, climate change, and “clean energy.” The other 95 percent is invested through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust, which is controlled by Bill and Melinda Gates and Democratic Party donor and investor Warren Buffett, who pledged $31 billion to the Foundation in 2006.
The Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote and implement the highly controversial national Common Core education standards. The funding for the standards stretched from teachers’ unions and business groups to political advocacy groups, and was embraced by the Obama administration, which eventually hired a number of former Gates Foundation staffers.
Gates and the Foundation have also come under scrutiny for purportedly cornering the market on global health initiatives, and encroaching on the territory of public organizations with parallel vision such as the World Health Organization. The Foundation has given more than $78.5 million to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, International Planned Parenthood Federation, International Planned Parenthood Federation – European Network, International Planned Parenthood Worldwide, and Planned Parenthood in both central and western Washington state.
Founding and Mission
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 1994 as the William H. Gates Foundation. It was created by Microsoft co-founder William H. “Bill” Gates and his wife Melinda French Gates, and was run by Gates’ father, William H. Gates, Sr., ostensibly to focus on global health.
Bill and Melinda Gates founded the Gates Library Foundation in 1997 with the stated goal of bringing internet access and computers to U.S. public libraries. It became the Gates Learning Foundation in 1999 when it broadened its focus to include college readiness.
In 2000, the William H. Gates Foundation merged with the Gates Learning Foundation and became known as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Following an infusion of money from billionaire investor Warren Buffet in 2006, the foundation set up a separate Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust to handle foundation assets. The Gates Foundation also reorganized to include global development, global health, and United States divisions. A global policy and development division was added in 2012.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is controlled by three trustees: Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett. William H. Gates, Sr. is the foundation’s co-chair. The foundation has 1,420 employees and gives to grantees in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as more than 100 countries.
The foundation issues grants from an endowment that is handled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust that lists Bill and Melinda Gates as the sole trustees. The foundation has funded $34.5 billion in grants since its inception.
Grantmaking areas include:
Global Development Program
Global Health Program
Global Policy and Advocacy
United States Program
Small Charitable Sector Support Initiative
The foundation’s locations include: 
- Headquarters – Seattle, Washington
- East Coast Office – Washington, D.C.
- India Office – Delhi, India
- China Office – Beijing, China
- Europe and Middle East Office – London, United Kingdom
- Africa Offices – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Abuja, Nigeria; and Johannesburg, South Africa
Most of the money for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has come from the Gates’ personal wealth, starting with $94 million in Microsoft stock in 1994 to establish the William H. Gates Foundation. On his 43rd birthday in 1998, Gates gave the foundation $1 billion. In 1999, Gates and his wife Melinda contributed $16 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Contributions are held in an endowment, which must give away at least five percent of its worth each year. The other 95 percent is invested. From 2000 to 2007, the endowment was managed by Bill Gates Investments, which handles Gates’ personal fortune.
In 2006, investor Warren Buffett made a lifetime pledge to the foundation of Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at $31 billion. The gift is paid in yearly installments with most recent contribution of $2.42 billion on July 10, 2017. To date, Buffett has contributed $21.88 billion to the BMGF.
In 2006, the foundation trustees restructured and created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust to hold donated investment assets from Bill and Melinda Gates, and annual contributions from Warren Buffett. In turn, the trust funds foundation programs and grants. Tax documents list Bill and Melinda Gates as the sole trustees of the Trust.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is the foundation’s co-chair and a trustee.
Melinda Gates is the foundation’s co-chair and a trustee.
Sue Desmond-Hellmann is the foundation’s chief executive officer.
Warren Buffett is a foundation trustee.
In June 2018, Business Insider cited a RAND Corporation report to note that a $1 billion education initiative that the Gates Foundation backed had “largely failed to help students.”  The Gates Foundation had chosen RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank, to evaluate the education initiative. The RAND report stated that, “[o]verall. . . the initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation, particularly for LIM [low-income minority] students.”
Contributions to Political Candidates, Campaigns and PACs by Employees
Foundations are not permitted by tax law to contribute to candidates for election. However, the Center For Responsive Politics lists contributions from individuals who list the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as their employer: Those contributions total $684,220 to political candidates and political action committees (PACs) since 2000. Of those contributions, 97 percent, or $660,431, were made to Democratic candidates and committees.
In 2014, the Washington Post characterized the involvement of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in establishing national Common Core education standards as a “swift revolution,” with the Foundation not only bankrolling the development but also building “political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.”
Starting in 2008, hundreds of millions of dollars in Gates Foundation money went to a broad range of organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, policy groups including liberals (most notably the Center for American Progress) and conservatives (such as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and state and local groups. The “revolution” received further support from the Obama administration, which was populated with former Gates Foundation staffers and associates.
The Gates Foundation provided seed money the non-profit Teaching Channel website and Teaching Channel television program to promote Common Core teaching instructions. The effort was launched in September 2011 with programs airing on public television stations.
By 2010, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Gates-backed Common Core State Standards. By 2014 Common Core came under increasing criticism even among former supporters on the left. A 2016 report found that Common Core was not preparing students very well for college or a career.
In May, 2016, Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman admitted in an annual letter that the foundation had made mistakes with Common Core. The letter prompted a Los Angeles Times editorial titled, “Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda.” The editorial criticized the Gates Foundation of taking on an “unhealthy amount of power in the setting of education policy,” landing former foundation staff members high positions in the U.S. Department of Education and head of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Too Few Trustees
Some have criticized the Gates Foundation by pointing to the fact there are three trustees deciding how billions of dollars controlled by the world’s largest philanthropic foundation are spent. Pablo Eisenberg of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute told NBC News, “That is much too small and narrow a board to run a foundation whose combined assets will one day exceed the budgets of all but 30 percent of the countries in the world,” which he said “offers little protection to America’s taxpayers or the national interest.” Diana Aviv of the Independent Sector coalition of 600 charities said larger boards are wiser and provide necessary “checks and balances” required for good decision-making and oversight.
Socially Irresponsible Investments
The Gates Foundation has faced criticism from the left for breaking its social commitments. A Los Angeles Times investigation published in 2007 found that $8.7 billion, or 41 percent of Gates Foundation assets, were invested in companies that countered the foundation’s charitable goals or socially concerned philosophy. These include companies responsible for heavy air pollution in the Niger Delta to pharmaceutical firms whose pricing policies have hampered access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS patients in developing nations, a primary Gates Foundation focus area.
Too Much Influence
The Gates Foundation has been criticized for too-broad funding through an interconnected network of organizations and individuals across academia and the NGO and business sectors which University College London Dr. David McCoy said in 2012, “allows it to leverage influence through a kind of ‘group-think’ in international health.” And in 2008 the head of malaria research for the World Health Organization accused a Gates Foundation ‘cartel’ of suppressing diversity of scientific opinion, claiming the organization was ‘accountable to no-one other than itself’.
A 2016 report from the far-left British activist organization Global Justice Now analyzed Gates Foundation programs and concluded the foundation’s giving is far from a neutral charitable strategy, but instead an ideological commitment to “promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalization.” The report authors called on an international investigation into Gates Foundation spending.
Lawsuit by Former Employee
Todd Pierce, a former Gates Foundation chief digital officer, filed a lawsuit against the foundation in April 2017, alleging he was misled about the scope of his job when he was recruited, and that he was fired for clashing with executives who didn’t believe in his new role. The complaint stated, “During his exit interviews with several co-workers, they admitted that the job he was expected to perform was not the job he had been promised and that he hadn’t been told the truth about his position.”