The Multilateralist

Is Bill Gates monopolizing development?

David Rieff is worried that the Gates Foundation is having an outsized influence on how governments, international organizations, and publics think about development challenges: [A]mericans, like people everywhere in the rich world to a greater or lesser degree, are in love with quick fixes. As one relief officially put it to me recently, it is ...

David Rieff is worried that the Gates Foundation is having an outsized influence on how governments, international organizations, and publics think about development challenges:

[A]mericans, like people everywhere in the rich world to a greater or lesser degree, are in love with quick fixes. As one relief officially put it to me recently, it is as if the rescue of the Chilean miners were a model for how we could ensure food security in sub-Saharan Africa or ensure livelihoods in Haiti. That is, the essence of what we have to do is simply find the right cutting-edge technologies and deploy sufficient money and bureaucratic energies to apply them; in short, that there is a technological fix on offer somewhere near, and that we are on the brink of uncovering it. It is this worldview that is at the heart of the approach both to global health and agricultural development that has been championed, and to an important degree underwritten, by the Gates Foundation, and which now informs the thinking of the major Western donor governments and of the United Nations system.

In Rieff's view, the Gates Foundation promotes a fundamentally ahistorical and apolitical view of development and, in so doing, raises expectations about what resources and technical fixes can achieve to unsustainable levels. I'm curious about his claim that the Gates view has managed to thoroughly infiltrate the U.N. system. In other contexts, Rieff has been a savage and eloquent critic of the U.N.'s institutional worldview, which begs the question of whether the Gates philosophy is displacing anything Rieff considers valuable. 

David Rieff is worried that the Gates Foundation is having an outsized influence on how governments, international organizations, and publics think about development challenges:

[A]mericans, like people everywhere in the rich world to a greater or lesser degree, are in love with quick fixes. As one relief officially put it to me recently, it is as if the rescue of the Chilean miners were a model for how we could ensure food security in sub-Saharan Africa or ensure livelihoods in Haiti. That is, the essence of what we have to do is simply find the right cutting-edge technologies and deploy sufficient money and bureaucratic energies to apply them; in short, that there is a technological fix on offer somewhere near, and that we are on the brink of uncovering it. It is this worldview that is at the heart of the approach both to global health and agricultural development that has been championed, and to an important degree underwritten, by the Gates Foundation, and which now informs the thinking of the major Western donor governments and of the United Nations system.

In Rieff’s view, the Gates Foundation promotes a fundamentally ahistorical and apolitical view of development and, in so doing, raises expectations about what resources and technical fixes can achieve to unsustainable levels. I’m curious about his claim that the Gates view has managed to thoroughly infiltrate the U.N. system. In other contexts, Rieff has been a savage and eloquent critic of the U.N.’s institutional worldview, which begs the question of whether the Gates philosophy is displacing anything Rieff considers valuable. 

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist

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