Open Society Foundations new chief and Bill Gates' dire warning: This week in development

Patrick Gaspard, new acting president of the Open Society Foundations. Photo by: ©International AIDS Society / Steve Forrest / Workers' Photos

The U.S. Senate signals support for rolling back controversial health policies, while three philanthropic titans convene around cardiovascular disease and epidemic control. This week in development.

Billionaire investor George Soros has named a new president to lead the Open Society Foundations, which he founded to support human rights and democracy organizations around the world. Patrick Gaspard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and aide to President Barack Obama, will lead the organization, which operates in more than 100 countries on issues ranging from democracy, to free speech, to access to medicines and has an endowment of roughly $1.5 billion. Gaspard, who currently serves as the foundation’s vice president, will take over leadership at the beginning of 2018. He will replace Chris Stone, who submitted his resignation to Soros on Monday after more than five years. The Open Society Foundations has found itself battling civil society crackdowns in many of the countries where it operates in recent years and frequent government backlash against its activities and grantees. Just this week authorities in Azerbaijan blamed Soros for “a dirty campaign against the President of Azerbaijan and his family,” after an organization that has received funding from OSF revealed a nearly $3 billion slush fund linked to the president’s family.

Three major foundations are convening around a new health initiative to tackle cardiovascular disease and combat epidemics. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, and Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a five-year, $225 million initiative called Resolve, which will be led by former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief Tom Frieden and implemented by New York-based Vital Strategies, as Catherine Cheney reported for Devex. In a statement announcing the new initiative, Bill Gates suggested his foundation has grown increasingly concerned about the growing threat posed by cardiovascular disease in developing countries, despite the foundation’s long-time focus on infectious disease.

Bill Gates wants the U.S. Congress to understand just exactly what cutting foreign aid would mean for millions of people who rely on lifesaving programs such as HIV treatment and prevention. In a new report — called “Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data” — the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecast how various levels of aid spending would translate into lives saved or lost. The analysis of U.S. HIV spending is particularly striking. The team shows that a 10 percent cut to U.S. HIV funding would result in 5 million more deaths by 2030. President Donald Trump has called for a 17 percent cut to PEPFAR — the flagship U.S. AIDS initiative.

Last week, the U.S. Senate approved a budget bill that repudiates some of the most controversial foreign aid cuts and policies put forth by the Trump administration. The bill includes roughly $51 billion in fiscal year 2018 foreign affairs spending, a modest reduction from 2017 spending levels and $10.7 billion higher than the president’s request. It also includes an amendment — introduced by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and passed by a narrow margin — that would repeal the anti-abortion funding Mexico City Policy — often called the “global gag rule” — and increase funding for family planning to $622.5 million. Another successful amendment would restore $10 million in climate change funding, though not to the Green Climate Fund, which the Trump administration has vowed not to support. The bill — and particularly its stance on abortion and family planning policies — is likely to face stiff resistance from the House of Representatives, which must still vote on its own spending bill.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.