Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hard Times, Heightened Help

by Steve Villano

Bill Gates has set the bar high once again, for philanthropists and donors.

In 2008, the assets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations decreased by 20 percent, dropping from $38 billion down to $31 billion. Spending by the Gates Foundation during 2008—on life & death matters like AIDS, Malaria, TB, and education—was at $3.3 billion. So, what is Bill Gates doing in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression? He is increasing giving, up to $3.8 billion.

To Gates, the reason is simple and direct: people with money need to give more, not less, when times are hard, since suffering is dramatically increasing.

“Foundations provide something unique when they work on behalf of the poor, who have no market power, or when they work in areas like health or education, where the market does not naturally work toward the right goals. . . “Gates wrote in his first Annual Letter, published just last month, that “These investments are high risk, and high reward. But the reward isn’t measured by financial gain; its measured by the number of lives saved or people lifted out of poverty.”

Economic hard times are not the time for foundations and corporations to make the lives of the people their generosity serves even harder. If giving and generosity follow such a trickle-down trail, Gates argues, then “we will come out of the economic downturn in a world that is even more unequal, with greater inequalities in health and education, and few opportunities for people to improve their lives.”

The exact same practical philosophy applies to Cable Positive and our many corporate supporters in the telecommunications industry. Cable Positive is unique within the entire global business community: no other industry has designated one specific public health crisis as its mission to fight with the powerful weapons at its exclusive disposal—valuable television airtime, the talent and access of top people in the industry, and the money necessary to serve local communities and thousands of cable employees around the country. Over the past 17 years, the Cable industry has donated nearly $2 billion of airtime and some $20 million dollars to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Now, more than ever before in the organization’s history, we need more resources from our donors, not less, as our programs—like our brand new Youth AIDS Media Institute, funded by the Motorola Foundation—are reaching more and more people, in the most highly affected communities. Cable Positive has truly become—like C-SPAN—a public service of the cable industry. Now is clearly not the time to pull back on those efforts, but to follow the sound advice of Bill Gates: “I am impressed by individuals who continue to give generously even in these difficult times.”

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