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December 17, 2007

The gift that keeps giving

Posted by Kristi Heim at 10:19 AM

Microsoft raised a record $72 million in its employee giving campaign this year, and natural disasters both near and far have prompted an outpouring of generosity recently.

New non-profits have taken their appeals online in innovative ways through sites such as and GlobalGiving. I wrote a story about them here. And Carol Pucci actually went to visit the people she loaned money to here.

But since we're counting down to the week before Christmas, avoiding the retail hordes might be a more compelling reason to explore philanthropy through the Internet.

The Case Foundation started a program called America's Giving Challenge that lets people campaign online for the charity of their choice. The top 100 non-profits get $1,000 and the top eight get $50,000.

Washington Cash uses the microfinance model to help small business in the state.

DonorsChoose lets people support a classroom project.

ModestNeeds helps people with basic things like rent or bills.

Prosper gives people in the U.S. a way get small loans or lend money to others.

If you've heard of any other new and interesting ways to give online, let us know.

October 30, 2007

'In Redmond, you don't see 7-year-olds begging on the street'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 11:41 AM

That's a quote from this New York Times story about how beneficiaries of the tech outsourcing boom in India are trying to combat poverty in their own country.

Sean Blagsvedt, a veteran of Microsoft Research in India and founder of a kind of social networking Web site for poor people who don't have their own computers, was of course referring to his former employer's headquarters. "In India," he continued, "you can't escape the feeling that you're really lucky. So you ask, What are you going to do about all the stuff around you? How are you going to use all these skills?"

The story goes on to describe how technology companies are using India as a laboratory for technology to serve, as Microsoft execs might put it, the next billion people.

Microsoft earlier this year formalized its approach to doing business in the emerging economies of the world with its "Unlimited Potential" program. And during its last quarter, the company saw 40 percent growth in the fast-emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

September 24, 2007

The story behind the story

Posted by Kristi Heim at 7:28 PM

So why are you journalists in Seattle spending so much time writing about malaria in Africa, when there are plenty of problems in your own back yard? This is a question I've been asked before, and no doubt I'll be asked again.

I can give all the standard arguments for why we should care:

-- It's Bill Gates.
-- It's a technology inventor's dream about changing the world.
-- Malaria is a lens to look at the extraordinary ambitions of the largest charitable foundation in history.
-- Global health is emerging as a defining industry in our region.
-- Imagine the headline: "World's richest human sets out to defeat tiny insect." No, make that "parasite within tiny insect."

In the end, it comes down to a simple question of numbers.

As we sit here comfortably over three days reading this series, 9,000 people will be dead from malaria.

Talk about high impact.

But let's not focus solely on the negative. In a world saturated with crime and war, as one reader noted today, people want to see solutions.

They want to see how an entrenched problem that everyone thought would go on forever, given the will, the right tools and enough money, might just be fixed.

It's not for me to judge whether this is the right solution, or even whether it's the right problem, but I do think chronicling the effort is worthwhile.

Maybe travel and the Internet have simply distorted my world view. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a French journalist made the now famous statement "We are all Americans."

With the equivalent of a 9/11 happening every day, shouldn't we say we are all Africans? Genetically speaking, it's probably true.

The Gates Foundation has spent $1 billion so far to fight malaria. That seems like a lot of money.

But if every person in the United States saved less than a penny a day, collectively we would have the same budget by the end of the year.

And if every person in Seattle gave up just one latte a month -- let's say $36 a year -- they could raise $22 million for the cause of their choice, it would be possible, for example, to buy one $5 bed net for the entire population of the Central African Republic.

Still not convinced? Read this.

Maybe Bill Gates is full of hot air. Maybe he's just trying to square his karma. If you've always wanted to say something to him, here's your chance. He might be reading.

Of course, nobody knows whether solving malaria, if it can be done, will ultimately help Africans have a better life. Considering the numerous problems they face, says economist Tyler Cowen, investing in one is almost like buying a lottery ticket.

I guess the only thing we know for sure is what doing nothing has achieved.


A 3-year-old child with malaria sits in a hospital bed in Zambia

September 20, 2007

Gates Foundation supports online activism

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:40 PM

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's partnership with MTV is taking new shape as the U.S. election year approaches. The foundation is one of the key supporters of the thinkMTV social networking venture, launched today as "a platform for activist campaigns."

The site connects people and causes, with user-generated news and video and links to take action on issues such as poverty, war, politics, health, environment and education.

The Gates Foundation started supporting thinkMTV back in 2005 as part of its education efforts.

If you want to see Jay-Z talk about a water crisis or Pete Wentz explain why he put Ugandan refugees in a Fall Out Boy video, this is the site for you.

But MTV is also paying individuals for activism. For those who volunteer, donate blood or do other good works, it's giving "badges" that can be used for things like access to MTV events, media exposure, meetings with celebrities and video cameras. More on that here.

September 18, 2007

Gates Foundation executive is knighted

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:59 PM

Dr. Tadataka "Tachi" Yamada, president of the global health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, today can add knighthood to his list of achievements.


Tachi Yamada joined the Gates Foundation in 2006.

Yamada received the honor for his work at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, where he was head of research and development from 2000 to 2006. During that time he helped make GSK into an R&D powerhouse, the U.K.'s most innovative company and the commercial leader in researching diseases of the developing world, the U.K. government said in a press release. Yamada earned a B.A. in history from Stanford University, his M.D. from New York University School of Medicine.

The official title "honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)" is given by the Queen. Foreign citizens are recognized for important contributions to relations between their country and Britain, but only U.K. citizens with knighthood get the title of Sir or Dame. Yamada is an American citizen.

"I am delighted and humbled to receive this great honor," he said in a statement. "The U.K. is at the forefront of scientific innovation, particularly in discovering new medicines and improving global health. It has been my privilege to work with extraordinary British colleagues throughout my career in academia, in industry, and now in the fight against health disparities throughout the world."

Yamada joins a list of American recipients that includes former Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan; Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Norman Schwartzkopf; actor Bob Hope; composer/conductor Andre Previn; director Steven Spielberg and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who was given the honor in 2005.

September 6, 2007

Xbox exec takes on finance for the poor

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:30 PM

A former Microsoft executive who led the launch of Xbox and the co-founders of both and have all joined a local non-profit dedicated to helping poor people gain access to credit.

They're part of a wave of experienced technology people leaving the business world to apply their skills to problems of inequality.

Maybe they were listening to Bill Gates' Harvard commencement speech...

Their business experience is valued at Redmond-based Unitus, which looks at microfinance, or providing tiny loans and other services to working poor, as "an up-and-coming business sector, not a charity," in the words of its spokesman. Unitus also operates a separate, for-profit investment fund.

That for-profit approach is somewhat controversial and has its share of critics. But in microfinance the line between doing good and making money is blurring.

Unitus reaches more than 2 million people now with loans, insurance and other services that would not be available to them through traditional banks. Like an aggressive tech startup, it plans to expand to a million more by the end of the year.

Xbox veteran Ed Bland, who was a general manager in Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, left to join Unitus as chief operating officer.

SOURCE: Unitus

Ed Bland's job is anything but.

Other techies that have recently joined Unitus are Derek Streat, co-founder of and now Unitus VP of microfinance solutions; co-founder Jonathan Weinstein, now Unitus director of product development; former Microsoft and BEA employee Diana Reid, now Unitus VP of donor and investor relations; and RealNetworks and Microsoft veteran Sandra Winters, who is Unitus director of strategic alliances.

August 29, 2007

Paul Allen's new brain trust

Posted by Kristi Heim at 4:12 PM

Now that the Allen Institute for Brain Science has created a detailed map of the brain, it has been busy mapping its own future.

The institute this week named a new scientific advisory board to help define and advance its scientific agenda. The board members are David Anderson and Christof Koch from CalTech, Thomas Daniel and Phyllis Wise from UW, Catherine Dulac from Harvard, Steven Paul of Lilly Research Labs, Michael Stryker of UC San Francisco, Joseph S. Takahashi from Northwestern University and Marc Tessier-Lavigne from Genentech.


Lab assistants help unlock the mysteries of the mouse brain, genetically similar to the human brain.

Allen provided a $100 million donation of seed money to fund the institute, and it has used $40 million to build the Allen Brain Atlas. Now the institute needs more funding to take on the next challenge. That money could come from federal grants, foundations and other sources, as well as from Allen himself. But the institute is intended to run as a business, says Chief Operating Officer Elaine Jones, so it's looking at new models for future investments in projects that could later be commercialized.

July 10, 2007

Gates Foundation center as new tourist attraction?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 2:56 PM

The visitor's center at heart of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus is being designed by Ralph Appelbaum Associates, the same firm that designed the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Scheduled to open in 2010, the 15,000-square-foot center will be a public window on the foundation's work in global health, development and education.

In this interview founder Ralph Appelbaum says he intends to convey a message of optimism, that "all lives, no matter where they're lived, have equal value; that there are inequities, but today's problems are solvable."

The center aims to open people's eyes to global problems through a journey or personal encounter, similar to the way visitors experience the Holocaust Museum.

In Seattle, visitors will see "how an American family became engaged with complex and serious issues and found their own way to contribute," he said.

Since the new campus is at Seattle Center, just across the street from the Space Needle and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's Experience Music Project, it could become a regular stop for visitors to Seattle. Maybe they'll think of it as the Experience Philanthropy Project.

July 9, 2007

Is charity contagious?

Posted by Kristi Heim at 11:48 AM

In the year following Warren Buffett's highly publicized donation to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, all that generousity is clearly having one effect: peer pressure.

The act has spurred its share of philanthropic impulses around the globe. In case you missed it, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan said recently he is giving half of his fortune to charity.

While Chan didn't reveal his net worth, he did mention the influence of Buffett and Gates.

"I admire the efforts by Buffett and Gates to help those in need a lot," Chan said.
"Like Buffett and Gates, I want to help people, but I don't have as much money as they do," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Chan, 52, said his donation would go into his Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation, started in 1988 to help poor youth in Hong Kong and later broadened to include disaster relief, medicine and the arts.

Observers have also taken a closer look at the wallets of the world's richest and asked -- why hold out?

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim has a fat piggy bank, adding $3.5 billion to his riches every month, according to Business Week. Now he is estimated to have overtaken Gates as the richest man in the world.

Slim's charities include a $1.2 billion endowment of his telecom company's Telmex Foundation and a family charity worth $2.5 billion. And he recently donated $100 million to the Clinton Foundation.

Slim pickings compared to Gates' philanthropy? Maybe, but better than none at all.

June 19, 2007

Musical chairs in the philanthropy world

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:39 PM

We knew about big changes going on over at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but it's getting hard to keep track of all the comings and goings.

The Gates Foundation hired a new communications director, Heidi Sinclair, a Seattle native who is currently president and CEO of PR firm Burson-Marsteller in Europe. In September, Sinclair will start to oversee the foundation's communications strategy and act as senior adviser to Bill and Melinda Gates.

Her past positions include vice president of corporate strategy at software company Borland, hardly Microsoft's biggest fan. Back then Sinclair complained Microsoft was stifling competition.

"Microsoft resembles the IBM of yore: the 800-lb. gorilla that sits anywhere it wants," she said in a 1993 Time magazine article.

She's not the only one swapping seats. Senior policy officer Monica Harrington will leave the foundation this month to work with NGOs on innovation initiatives and help build a new online photo editing service called

Two figures in the Seattle philanthropy scene recently moved to Google.
Jacquelline Fuller, former deputy director of the global health program at the Gates Foundation, is now leading's advocacy efforts.

And Blaise Judja-Sato, founder of Seattle-based non-profit VillageReach, is now working on global economic development at

Incidentally, Gates' recent commencement address puzzled Harvard economics professor Robert Barro, who argues Microsoft provides more benefit to society than the charitable foundation.

June 11, 2007

John Stanton joins United Way

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 2:56 PM

The United Way of King County said John Stanton, the incoming campaign chair, will announce a major new campaign at a breakfast Tuesday.

Stanton is considered one of the pioneers of the wireless industry, having worked alongside Craig McCaw to build McCaw Cellular Communications, which was acquired by AT&T and spun out to become AT&T Wireless.

Stanton also built VoiceStream Wireless -- now T-Mobile USA -- and helped to spin it off from Western Wireless. It later was sold to German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom for $30 billion.

Two years ago, Stanton sold Western Wireless, a Bellevue carrier focused on rural areas and smaller markets, to Alltel. He's now at Trilogy Equity Partners, an investment company that makes mobile bets.

The breakfast Tuesday, at the Paramount Theatre, will highlight United Way programs aimed at ending homelessness and ensuring all children are ready for school, the United Way said. The breakfast will also feature keynote speaker Scott Carson, executive vice president of The Boeing Company.

April 11, 2007

Steve Davis 2.0

Posted by Kristi Heim at 9:41 AM

Steve Davis is stepping down as chief executive of Corbis.

Now that Corbis CEO Steve Davis is going to spend more time writing, it's a good time to check out his blog, Creativity 2.0.

So far, he has been exploring a variety of topics related to digital media, including the rights of creators, the role of Google in archiving, Yahoo! and censorship in China and more.

It's hard to imagine a more wide-ranging career than the one Davis has had, from resettling refugees to learning Chinese language and law, advocating civil rights for gays and lesbians, working as an intellectual property lawyer and leading the private company of the richest person in the world.

He told me that a transformative moment in his life happened just out of college during a visit to a refugee camp in Thailand as Cambodians were fleeing from the Killing Fields. That inspired a fundamental interest in social justice, he said.

Now his career is coming full circle, but he resists the notion of "giving back." "I actually hate that expression," he said. "It suggest you've been taking all along."

Davis said he's thinking more about how to address the big problems of our time, such as climate change and global health. When he applies his full creativity to philanthropy, the results will be worth watching.

March 9, 2007

Gates Foundation hires former Mexico health secretary

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:09 PM

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has hired Julio Frenk, the former health secretary of Mexico, as a senior fellow in its global health program. It's an interesting choice for a few reasons.

Frenk is a physician who directed health policy for six years in the administration of President Vicente Fox.

During that time, the foundation notes, Mexico's maternal mortality rate fell more than 20 percent, and the country was one of only seven to make sufficient progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

Frenk came under fire from some conservatives for his decision to provide free "morning after" birth control pills in government hospitals and clinics. He also introduced a broad health insurance system for the country.

His experience at the World Health Organization could prove valuable for the foundation. At WHO, he was executive director of evidence and information policy, and later a candidate for director general. There Frenk worked closely with Christopher Murray, a Harvard professor whom the foundation and the UW are trying to recruit to head a new Health Metrics Institute at the university.

The institute, which would be launched with a $100 million grant from the Gates Foundation, would specialize in measuring and evaluating the health of people in the world's poorest countries. At the foundation, Frenk's new job description includes strengthening the monitoring and evaluation of health programs. Maybe he's already given Murray a call.

February 20, 2007

Gates Foundation gets new CFO

Posted by Kristi Heim at 1:12 PM

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said today it has hired investment banker Alexander S. Friedman as its chief financial officer.

Friedman is a mergers and acquisitions specialist at international investment bank Lazard (NYSE: LAZ).

Friedman is charged with overseeing the world's largest foundation's finance and accounting, financial and strategic planning, facilities and real estate, among other activities. At a time when the foundation has come under scrutiny for its investments, he'll have his hands full.

That is, if he gets involved in the funding side at all. Last year the foundation separated its operations and grant programs money from its endowment, which is handled by outside investment managers. Its endowment is worth more than $30 billion, with a gift of $30 billion more from Warren Buffett.

Friedman also has experience in biotechnology, having led corporate development at Medarex. And he is another Clinton Administration veteran to join the Gates Foundation. Like Sylvia Mathews, president of Global Development at the foundation, Friedman served under President Clinton. He was a White House Fellow and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Projects. He is on the board of the New York-based NetAid Foundation, an initiative of Mercy Corps.

He will begin working on March 19, reporting to Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Scott.

February 16, 2007

Gates Foundation, NBA players reach for the net

Posted by Kristi Heim at 12:24 PM

At Sunday's NBA All-Star game in Las Vegas, players will be shooting for something more than a basket. Five NBA All-Stars are donating funds to a grassroots campaign to fight malaria in Africa, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is matching their pledge.

The campaign Nothing But Nets, which raises funds to provide insecticide-treated bed nets for families in Africa, will get help from Atlanta Hawks guard Joe Johnson, who will contribute $1,000 per basket made in the game. Other players will donate money and participate in charity events around the game.

Nothing But Nets was created by the United Nations Foundation and spurred by Sports Illustrated Columnist Rick Reilly. He challenged each of his readers to donate $10 to buy a bed net to protect a family from malaria, a disease that kills more than a million people a year. The Gates Foundation matches contributions dollar for dollar.

Tricia Duryee
Tricia Duryee

Angel Gonzalez
Angel Gonzalez

Kristi Heim
Kristi Heim

Benjamin J. Romano
Benjamin J. Romano

Mark Watanabe



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