Efforts of Gates, Clinton Foundations Increasingly Overlap

With formidable resources at their disposal and increasingly overlapping interests, former President Bill Clinton and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates could prove to be a consequential force in the world of international philanthropy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Although there has been little formal collaboration between the two, their foundations have begun to work together. Recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $750,000 to the Clinton Foundation to explore how best to deliver expanded access to drugs for HIV/AIDS. In addition, Clinton recently spoke at the Microsoft Government Leadership Forum in Capetown, South Africa. And next month, the two men will share the podium at the XVI International Conference on AIDS in Toronto, where they will speak to thousands of scientists, activists, and media sources about the threat of HIV. "I think what you're seeing is the beginning of what you might call the first super NGO...with overlapping interests and a great deal of resources," said former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, now president and CEO of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS in New York City.

Those overlapping interests are clearly evident in Lesotho, where the Clinton Foundation has been helping the government establish national AIDS-drug access programs since 2004. Lesotho is a highly significant venue for the two because of its nationwide HIV testing and its efforts to remove the stigma of treatment, said Trevor Neilson, a former spokesman for President Clinton and the Gates Foundation and now a partner in the Endeavor Group, a philanthropic-strategy firm in Washington, D.C. "It's not an exaggeration to say the two Bills are leading the world in the fight against AIDS," he added.

Not everyone agrees that wealthy or influential private figures should be the driving force behind a revitalized global public health agenda. Mark Harrington, executive director of the New York City-based Treatment Action Group, argues that Gates's fortune "could give governments an excuse not to step up to the plate." But enlisting the cooperation of public- and private-sector entities is an area where President Clinton excels, and that fact could provide the Clinton and Gates foundations with an opportunity to leverage their respective strengths.

"Gates doesn't work as well with governments because he doesn't have the skills or political acquaintances," said Holbrooke. "Clinton doesn't have the resources. But [he] is the most important public figure....What's important is there's a marriage of many organizations of which Clinton's and Gates's are the most powerful."

Marilyn Chase. "Two Bills, One Mission" Wall Street Journal 07/11/2006.