BY BILL AND MELINDA GATES
2020 has been a hard year to be an optimist. Both of us have spent the past several months looking at alarming charts and datasets. COVID-19, in addition to claiming millions of lives and crashing the global economy, has reversed the progress the world has made in the fight against poverty and disease—a fight in which our foundation is deeply involved.
Humankind now must contend with all sorts of numbers that are heading in the wrong direction: Vaccine coverage has dropped to levels not seen since the 1990s. The extreme poverty rate has shot up 7 percent after 20 years of decline.
But there are bright spots. The pandemic has set in motion at least one hopeful trend: As the world has become sicker and poorer, people have also become more generous.
In response to this once-in-a-century health and economic crisis, people all over the world are giving more. Philanthropic foundations are increasing payout rates. Online giving has surged, as everyone at all levels of wealth look to help their communities. Donors and contributions reached a five-year-high in the months after COVID hit, with small donors leading the way at 19 percent over 2019. Some estimates suggest roughly $12 billion has been added to overall giving this year.
This pandemic philanthropy isn’t just bigger; it’s different in another way. More philanthropists are giving more money, and more philanthropists are working together, too. Just as scientists all over the world have been working together as never before to find vaccines and treatments, we are seeing the formation of impressive new philanthropic coalitions.
Take, for example, the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator (CTA), which has been working to speed up the discovery and distribution of life-saving drugs for the virus. Our foundation launched the CTA in March with Wellcome and the Mastercard Impact Fund. Soon after, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the UK Government, and the Minderoo Foundation—among others—joined the effort. By the early summer, the CTA had already donated $71 million in research grants.
The Asia Philanthropy Circle itself is helping mitigate COVID-19’s ripple effects, as well. We’re inspired to see that your members are supporting Indonesia’s Thousand Days Fund, named for the first one thousand days of a child’s life, which are the most crucial for their health and development.
Roughly one-in-three Indonesian children suffer from stunting. They’re not growing properly because they’re not getting enough to eat. This is a problem that the pandemic risks worsening. The World Food Programme
—the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize—estimates that COVID-19 could almost double the number of food insecure people, so your continued focus on this issue is incredibly important.
What happens in response to pandemics tends to stick and harden into history. In the post-COVID world, we hope that this bigger, more collaborative philanthropy remains a priority for givers globally. It would be one of the few good things to emerge from 2020 if, in response to the tragedy of this year, the world saw a consistent uptick in both generosity and collaboration: more people started giving more money to more causes—and doing so together.
This piece is excerpted from the APC 2019/2020 Annual Report, which you can download here.