Politico

Behind the numbers: How we analyzed Gates' and partners' global influence

For this financial analysis — the first of its kind — POLITICO journalists based in the U.S. and Europe and the German newspaper WELT set out to try to understand the extent to which global non-profits and philanthropies helped direct the world’s response to Covid-19 and how they positioned themselves to play a major role in the next pandemic.

To do that, the journalists identified multiple global health organizations that played integral roles in the world’s Covid pandemic response and came to focus on four because of their size, connections to one another and influence with governments and the WHO. They were: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations; Wellcome Trust; and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. These four organizations played a major part in envisioning and founding critical programs to help develop, secure and distribute medical countermeasures such as vaccines, tests and treatments.

The team looked at how much these organizations collectively raised, granted and invested for Covid and in preparation for the next pandemic. Journalists also examined how much these organizations spent in total, how their finances overlapped and diverged, as well as how much they spent on the development and procurement of vaccines, therapeutics and tests.

Journalists relied on the organizations’ financial statements published on their websites, tax documents, lobbying disclosures and Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Collectively, the team analyzed thousands of grants and investments.

The analysis is not comprehensive, in part because it is missing some data from the organizations. For example, the most recent Form 990 — a tax document for the U.S. — is unavailable for 2021 for Wellcome and CEPI. The organization was expected to file those to the IRS in August. Of the 990 forms that are available from the organizations, not every filing is detailed. For the organizations based in Europe, their filings do not include specifics about their grants or investments. For example, they do not list the grantee or the purpose of each individual grant.

However, all of the organizations published some information about their finances for both 2020 and 2021 on their websites. The POLITICO and WELT team used this information to help develop its analysis.

Each organization’s financials are formatted differently. They also use different accounting methods. To draw a more accurate picture of how these organizations impacted the overall funding picture for Covid and pandemic preparedness, the team searched the documents for line items directly related to Covid and pandemic preparedness for 2020, 2021 and part of 2022.

Journalists did not include stocks or bonds in any of the investment analyses. Instead, the team relied on disclosures from the organizations — particularly the Gates Foundation — about loans, volume guarantees and direct equity investments. However, not every organization is transparent about these investments. For example, Gavi has not disclosed how much it paid for vaccine purchase agreements.

The Gates Foundation committed money to the widest array of recipients. It publishes an extensive spreadsheet“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.gatesfoundation.org/about/committed-grants”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0002″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0003″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>extensive spreadsheet of all of its grants on its website. Journalists used this sheet, as well as information from the foundation’s other financial documents, to track its other investments“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://sif.gatesfoundation.org/investments/”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0004″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0005″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>its other investments, including volume guarantees and direct equity investments.

For its grants, journalists searched the file for “Covid,” “coronavirus,” “Sars-CoV-2,” “Covax” and “pandemic,” as well as variations of those words. For a separate analysis of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, the team reviewed hundreds of pandemic-related rows of data to determine whether the grant or investment was awarded to further the development or procurement of vaccines, treatments or diagnostics. Many rows did not fit into any of those categories, while others fit into more than one.

The POLITICO and WELT team conducted a similar analysis of Wellcome’s data. Wellcome also publishes a spreadsheet“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://wellcome.org/what-we-do/infectious-disease/coronavirus-covid-19/covid-19-research-weve-funded”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0006″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0007″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>a spreadsheet of its Covid-related grants. Journalists confirmed those numbers with Wellcome. The POLITICO and WELT financial analysis identified 24 additional Wellcome Covid-related grants, which added up to $17.2 million.

Gavi does not publish a detailed breakdown of its Covid spending on its website. However, representatives of Gavi said to POLITICO that its Covid spending, at least for 2021, is reflected in its COVAX financial statement. In other words, they said, the organization’s Covid spending is the same as its COVAX spending for 2021.

CEPI lists all of its Covid and pandemic preparedness grants on its website“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://cepi.net/research_dev/our-portfolio/”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0008″,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d0009″,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>on its website.

In its analysis, the POLITICO and WELT team also looked to see whether these four organizations granted and invested money in similar companies and organizations. They did. Journalists found they overlapped on 31 recipients.

The POLITICO and WELT team also conducted an analysis of the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A). ACT-A publishes its financial data online“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/access-to-covid-19-tools-tracker”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000a”,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000b”,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>financial data online on a rolling basis.

ACT-A representatives set the funding priorities and campaigned for donations“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/act-accelerator-calls-fair-share-based-financing-%C2%A0us-23-billion-end-pandemic-global”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000c”,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000d”,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>campaigned for donations. In total, the ACT-A raised $23 billion, according to its website. However, the money did not flow to a central bucket of cash. Instead, the money went directly to the agencies involved in the initiative, including Gavi and CEPI. Although ACT-A’s website promotes and keeps track of how much money the initiative raised from countries for vaccines, tests, treatments and health systems, it is nearly impossible to tell exactly where all of the money went. Based on each organization’s individual Covid database, it is not possible to delineate exactly how the groups spent the money raised through ACT-A. It is also difficult to determine in the organization’s grants and investment data how much they donated specifically for ACT-A programming. For example, the organizations do not use “ACT-A” or similar terminology in their descriptions of their grants and investments.

Representatives working with ACT-A insist the agency’s boards are responsible for oversight over that money — not ACT-A itself.

The POLITICO and WELT team also sought to understand the power these four organizations wielded at the World Health Organization. The financial analysis revealed how many Covid-specific grants went to the WHO, including its regional offices. Reporters also pulled data from the WHO website“,”link”:{“target”:”NEW”,”attributes”:[],”url”:”https://www.who.int/about/funding/contributors”,”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000e”,”_type”:”33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df”},”_id”:”00000183-40ab-d69d-a5e3-43bb0f7d000f”,”_type”:”02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266″}”>WHO website to get a sense of how much Gavi, Wellcome and the Gates Foundation granted to the multilateral organization in comparison to some of the wealthiest countries in the world.

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