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The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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26 June 2006 Blog Home : June 2006 : Permalink

Philanthropy vs Government Aid

One of the big news items today is that Warren Buffett (2nd richest man in world) is giving his friend Bill Gates (richest man in world) rather a lot of money to spend on charitable things. From the BBC:

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is to donate about $37bn (£20bn) - most of his vast personal fortune - to Bill Gates' charitable foundation.

Mr Buffett will hand 10 million shares in his Berkshire Hathaway firm to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a statement, Mr and Mrs Gates said they were "awed" by the donation, thought to be the largest charitable gift ever made in the United States.

The foundation aims to fight disease and promote education around the world.

Although governments do give aid to the poor it is, as is well known, frequently wasted and skimmed off. The BBC notes that one condition of this gift is that either Bill or Melinda Gates remain involved in the charity. In other words Buffett thinks his mate Bill is not going to tolerate that sort of waste. One suspects that he may also like the potiential for innovative efforts that personally directed philanthropy can offer and on that note here is a fasicnating tale of how the Gates Foundation is helping prostitutes in India to stay healthy:

BANGALORE: Under a project facilitated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, about 500 sex workers in Mysore own chip-embedded smart cards, which when presented during transactions help them get discounts at select shops and hotels and earn them loyalty points that can be redeemed for discounts on later purchases. The shopping basket can include provisions, food at restaurants and clothes.

But the card serves another purpose. It has the medical record of the sex worker, who has to compulsorily get his or her health check up at a clinic once in three months. The card becomes inactive if the holder fails to do this. The sex workers will be checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and treatment provided if necessary.

The vendors and the health specialists are provided with Simputer, the homegrown handheld device developed by scientists at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), to bridge the digital divide and the data is stored in real time at a central server to maintain confidentiality.

The encrypted card bars access of health records by traders, while doctors cannot find out the business transaction details. “Sex workers face stigma and discrimination in their daily life. The smart card is a symbol of self-esteem that creates a sense of inclusion for them in the society,” Ratna, a community member at Ashodaya, a non-government organisation (NGO) that works on AIDS, said.

[...]KHPT officials said that the smart card initiative came from discussion with the sex workers, who identified an incentive of discounts with a health card to be a better alternative than a pure health card.

I love the note at the end that the actual users were consulted about what they wanted. How many enormous government aid schemes bother to ask the beneficiaries if they actually want what they are being given? Think of the wonderful EU aid to Russia as the classic example here and note how the bureaucrats say they don't intend to change things despite the revelations of immense waste. I doubt BillG will behave the same way.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin