The fight against poverty in America is about to get a big boost thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann announced on Thursday that the philanthropic institution is pledging $158 million to combat poverty on the domestic level. Thursday’s press conference took place in a low-income neighborhood in Washington, D.C., highlighting the need to continue to tackle this growing problem.
As the country’s richest philanthropic organization, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has traditionally focused its work on addressing disease and poverty conditions around the world. This shift to a domestic initiative marks the foundation’s first significant investment in fighting destitution in the United States. Desmond-Hellmann said the initiative will invest in programs to share data to get to the root of the issue of poverty and lack of upward mobility in an effort to make the American Dream more accessible to those people previously shut out.
In addition to examining the key contributing factors of poverty, the initiative will also work to improve the complicated system of social services. Desmond-Hellman said that this investment will not be a cure-all across the board and that specific community needs will need to be addressed separately. The initiative was spurred by continuous questions directed toward the Gates family about why their focus has traditionally been on global issues, rather than problems on the domestic front.
The foundation is most known for its heavy investment in providing vaccines and medical attention to fight widespread global diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. The organization invests more than $4 billion of its total $40 billion in endowments fighting these diseases. In contrast, the foundation spends an average of only $500 million annually on the homefront. The majority of this domestic spending is geared toward educational initiatives.
Ironically, it was the involvement in educational reform that spurred the interest of working on poverty issues. The lessons gleaned from attempting to improve education made it more apparent that the root of many these issues in the classroom stemmed from the bigger problem of poverty and homelessness.