Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bill and Melinda Gates deserve the Nobel Peace Prize

Nobody deserves a "Nobel Peace Prize" more than Bill and Melinda Gates. Few, if any, of the of Peace Prize winners of the last 20 years have had the impact of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It's not that their foundation is big (though at $35-billion, it is), but that it's effective. It's one of the few examples of a charity that actually gets results, rather than blindly throwing money at a problem, often making things worse.

Charities exist not to solve problem but to extract money from donors. I don't mean this in a snide way, but a in a non-judgemental description of the truth. I believe that charities are overwhelmingly run by people with good intentions. It's just that the reality of running a charity corrupts them.

A good method of measuring corruption is what's known as Dark Patterns, or the evil tricks websites use to extract money or email addresses from you. If a website aggressively opts-in to their email spam, it's a site that you should avoid in the future.

That's how we know charities are corrupt. Once you donate once, the charity will forevermore inundate you with junk-mail and spam asking for more donations. It's nearly impossible to get off their mailing lists. They behave like the evilest of marketing companies, because they are.

The same goes for the work they do. Getting results is far less important than showing results. A good example is the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) charity that has shipped 2.4 million laptops to children in poor countries throughout the world. They have lots of glowing reports from classrooms that recently received their laptops, where children are encouraged to be excited about their laptops in order to receive more. But there's nothing on the OLPC site reporting on those children a few years later. OLPC has been shipping laptops to children long enough for the original recipients to be graduating from high-school. But yet, we never hear these stories -- only the stories from children who are excited by the laptop they received a month ago. As I write this, the latest English language article from their press page is about Rwanda. Despite having the laptops for 5 years, and be in a position to describe what the laptops have done, the article is all about the promise of what they will do. The potential of what the laptops can do is exciting and drives donations. The bitter reality of what really happens, as laptops break down, and as students go to work in fields where laptops are useless, is less exciting and will not drive donations.

What makes the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation different is that they aren't asking for donations. Consider this anti-dark-pattern: if you Google "donate to the bill and melinda gates foundation", the top result tells you this: "From time to time, people generously offer to contribute money to the foundation. We prefer that people give directly to our grantee organizations rather than to the foundation if they want to help advance the causes we’re passionate about. We have the stable funds we need to help us fulfill our mission, but our grantees often do not.".

In other words, they aren't corrupted by their donors.

For example, they undertook a project to reduce class size in classrooms in poor areas of the United States. They did this because "everyone knows" that class size is a problem that needs to be fixed. It's the sort of project that would get lots of donations, since it's so widely acknowledged to be a problem. But, after a few years of successfully reducing class size, the Gates foundation measured the results, and found that it didn't improve anything. Mathematicians have demonstrated that why "what everyone knows" is wrong, and that there is actually no evidence to believe big classes are a significant problem. Therefore, the Foundation shifted their money to other education projects instead. Had they been a traditional charity relying upon donations from well-meaning people wanting to reduce class size, this evidence of ineffectiveness wouldn't have stopped the charity from continuing the program.

The Gates demand for results means their charity works. Conversely, the track record of most charities is one of perpetuating problems rather than solving them. Most food aid to Africa goes to propping up corrupt governments who are responsible for the problem in the first place. In Africa, government officials will not allow your charity to operate unless you pay the requisite bribes. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation doesn't put up with that nonsense.

This is not only an argument of why the Gates is one of the few charities you should consider donating to, but also an argument why they deserve recognition, like the Nobel Peace Prize. And yet, the likelihood of this happening is near zero. Like charities, the Nobel Peace Prize doesn't go to people with results. Instead, it goes to promise of results. They gave President Obama the prize for his campaign rhetoric promising to end President Bush's foreign policies, but he's now widely criticized by peaceniks for continuing those policies. Likewise, numerous prizes have been given for solving the still unsolved Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Every year the Nobel committee is going to snub Bill Gates. I'm writing this down so that every year I can point this out, retweeting this blog.


Matt said...

Charities are like most organizations, as soon as they are founded they devote their energy to survival and growth of the organization, rather than achieving their goal. Perhaps organizations should have a defined lifetime? The new charity will work to eliminate homelessness in some city for five years or until the job is done, whichever comes first.

The Gate foundation is unusual. Gates actually understands the idea of measurable results and builds on it.

Good luck getting him the peace prize.

olj said...

Why should you give someone the Peace Prize, when he has backing of 35 billions?
You should also check out the charities you spend your money on. Some (not all of them) do a really good, dedicated job. Not wasting any unnecessary money.

Anonymous said...

Well, I got a lot of good people o does make world better without any money.

Bill and Melinda has their recognition, yes. I don't think that they worth nobel peace prize, yet.

BUT, if Nobel prizes where about merit, I would stay with that. but it isn't. It has politics - as any human interaction.

So, may the could win too, I got a plenty of cases that had great work (and more valuable) to pointer that weren't laureates... Not only in Peace Prize, but all the prizes.

Sorry about my English, it's not my mother lang.

Nice topic, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Very persuasive posting!