Created in 2000 by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda, the foundation in their name works to “help all people lead healthy, productive lives. With a trust endowment of $40.3 billion, it is the world’s largest private foundation.
The foundation’s grant making is done through four program divisions:
The Global Media Partnership portfolio, where the bulk of media funding resides, is located in the foundation’s Program Advocacy and Communications team with the Global Policy and Advocacy division.
With nearly 1,400 employees, the foundation operates from its Seattle headquarters and offices in Washington, D.C., Delhi, Beijing, London, Berlin, Addis Ababa, Abuja, and Johannesburg. A team of four staffers works on the Media Partnership portfolio.
In the CIMA survey, each donor was asked to rate from high to low in terms of priority the types of media interventions it supports.
Gates’ Media Projects topic priorities include the Sustainable Development Goals, development, poverty eradication, global health, pandemic preparedness, neglected diseases as well as gender equality and women and girl issues.
Gates has a particular interest in content that could fall into the context of media for development or content to influence outcomes. For example, in Europe as the migrant influx was becoming a public policy issue, the foundation supported four media outlets in four European countries to report “in an informed way that explains the complexity of the issue,” a Gates staff member said. The goal “was to inform audiences what is really behind the uptake of refugees.”
In 2017, Gates supported El Pais, the Guardian, Le Monde, and der Spiegel to each track different groups, for example, a football team by El Pais and Syrian family by der Spiegel.
The foundation also focuses not only on supporting content creation but increasingly, a staff member said, aims “to test how far journalism is willing to go toward a stronger relationship to the audience.” Its support increasingly puts emphasis on sparking action on the part of the public in a reaction to what they read or viewed in the media.
The US Guardian’s Outside in America is an example of such an “action platform.” In the program, which was announced in 2016, the Gates Foundation gave a $550,000 grant for a year-long deep-dive on the growing homeless crisis in the western U.S.
In the Guardian US’s grant announcement, the news organization said its goal was to bridge the gap between journalism and activism by engaging with readers and inspiring them through an Action Button operated by Speakable on each news site. The hope is for readers, after becoming more informed on the issue of homelessness, to donate to or volunteer with local organizations working to combat homelessness in the western U.S.
The foundation is also trying to build the capacity of local organizations to manage large projects through the Global Media Partnerships in order to eventually lessen the need to go through well-established intermediary organizations, which are often based in the more developed world.
The multi-billion-dollar foundation trust holds the donated investment assets from Bill and Melinda Gates and receives contributions from Warren Buffet, the business magnate, investor, and philanthropist who has donated stocks or dollars totaling billions of dollars to the Gates Foundation. In 2017, Buffett donated $2.42 billion to the foundation. The trust manages the investment assets and transfers proceeds to the foundation.
Since its inception and through 2016, the Gates Foundation has given $41.3 billion in grants globally. In 2016 alone, direct grantee support totaled $4.6 billion. Media projects comprise a small fraction of this amount.
In 2016, the Gates Foundation supported $24 million in media grants. In 2018, this number will be $20 million not because of a significant loss of funding for media but rather due to an organizational shift of media research grants to an Insights Team, which will take over the research portfolio.
In 2016, the Gates Foundation regional media development funding broke down as:
Africa 24 percent
Asia 10 percent
Europe 30 percent
Eurasia 0 percent
North America (US and Canada) 36 percent
Latin America 0 percent
Media Grants in 2016
Direct Grantee Support in 2016
impactAfrica is the continent’s largest fund for data-driven storytelling. The $500,000 Gates-funded ICFJ and Code for Africa project lead by Knight fellows supports innovative reporting that focuses on data journalism and stories dealing with development issues. The project operates in six African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.
Besides financial support, participants get technology assistance through civic labs, one-on-one editorial mentoring, digital skills training and content syndication services. The goal is to spur newsroom experimentation and innovative storytelling while at the same time encouraging evidence-based public discourse.
Through Gates funding, the Huffington Post hopes to raise awareness, via Project Zero, of neglected tropical diseases and ongoing efforts to eliminate them. Working through its virtual reality studio, RYOT, the project will look at people affected by one of 18 neglected tropical diseases, such as sleeping sickness, and collaborate with a crowd-funding platform, such as Crowdrise and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DnDi). A goal is that readers click on an Action Button on the story site to raise the $5 million needed to complete development of new treatments for sleeping sickness.
The Conversation describes itself as a combination of “academic rigour and journalistic flair.” It is an independent online source of news and views from the academic and research community, edited by professional editors, that goes directly to the public.
Through The Conversation site, professional editors work with university and research institute experts to capture their knowledge of current affairs and complex issues and distribute it to the larger public. Ultimately, the project hopes to help rebuild trust in journalism.
The site’s authors and editors have to abide by the site’s charter and policies. Authors are allowed only to write on topics on which they have proven expertise, which they must disclose alongside their article. Outside funding or potential conflicts of interest must be disclosed or writers and editors could be banned from future contributions.
The Conversation was launched in Australia in 2011 and has expanded particularly in English speaking countries. The foundation supports its Africa edition, The Conversation Africa.
The Gates Foundation is one of the funders of Africa Check, an independent, online source that promotes accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa. It was founded by the nonprofit media development arm of Agence France Presse (AFP).
The goal is to raise the quality of information available to the African public and to assess claims made by public figures, institutions and the media on the continent against the best available evidence.
Report Author: Marguerite Sullivan
Last Updated: March 2018