Warren Buffett's Gift to the Gates Foundation: Money that can make a difference

June 26, 2006

"It's easier to create money than to spend it." So said Warren Buffett, long before his announcement on Sunday that he would donate the lion's share of his personal fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation will then have the none-too-easy task of finding the right uses for an additional $1.5 billion of grants each year, doubling their current outflow. For those in the development world who have scrambled to keep up with the Gates Foundation's influence -- first on global health and soon on international agriculture and financial services for the poor -- the prospect of a mega-foundation with some $70 billion in assets stirs the imagination. The Foundation's influence on international development will be remarkable, in part because of the volume of resources (more than the market value of the IMF's gold); but more importantly because of the special nature of the money: it's flexible, patient and has a risk-reward calculus as part of its DNA. In other words, it is the polar opposite of the type of money that USAID and most other development agencies handle, which tends to be rigidly earmarked, allocated year-to-year, and driven by bureaucratic imperatives.


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