Another Little Side Project for Gates: Taking on Grinding Poverty in the Islamic World

The link between the poverty of Muslim countries and the problem of extremism gets a lot of play in conversations about terrorism. But we don't hear much about philanthropy working this area. Global development funders are mainly focused elsewhere, like in sub-Saharan Africa, while major funders that do operate in the Middle East, North Africa or Pakistan tend to focus on helping refugees.

So it's good to know that at least one giant foundation is paying attention to the underlying development challenges facing the Muslim world. As we've previously reported, the Lives and Livelihoods Fund is a joint venture between the Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD). The fund envisions “a world where more people are able to lead healthier lives, attain decent livelihoods, and lift themselves out of poverty.” The hope, here, is that the fund will promote and advance long-term stability and social change in the Muslim world.

This push to help a conflict-riddled region of the world beset by failed states and religious polarization sounds like a pretty steep hill to climb, but moonshots are nothing new for Gates. And just recently, the effort got a nice $50 million bump from the State of Qatar. 

Related: Gates Launches Another Monster Fund, This One to Help the Poor of the Islamic World

The Lives and Livelihoods Fund focus is on improving health, increasing agricultural productivity, and building basic infrastructure. On the health front, the fund is zeroing in on reducing mortality rates among mothers and children and combating infectious diseases. Agriculturally, investments are planned for projects to benefit smallholder farmers. To promote infrastructure, the fund is backing efforts in off-grid power generation, small-scale water supply and sanitation, and digital banking. Grant money is also earmarked for programs advancing finanical inclusion. 

Both Gates and the IDB have each pledged $100 million to the fund in the hopes of raising the $500 million necessary to unlock the remaining $2 billion of the total $2.5 billion fund. The Lives and Livelihoods Fund will provide financing to 30 least-developed IDB membership countries. There’s still a long way to go to unlock that capital, but a $50 million commitment from the Qatar Development Fund—a public organization that “coordinates and implements foreign development assistance on behalf of the state of Qatar"—certainly helps.

The Gates Foundation doesn’t have a long history of collaborating with the Qatar Development Fund, but it’s been building a relationship with IDB for quite a few years. In 2010, Gates, IDB, Carlos Slim Health Institute, and the government of Spain collaborated on an initiative to reduce health disparities across poor populations in Central America and Southern Mexico. Gates hooked up with IDB again in 2012to establish a five-year framework for agricultural development, malaria prevention and elimination, and polio eradication in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria.

All of Gates’ previous ventures with IDB involved just a few players, but the Lives and Livelihoods Fund is encouraging increased involvement from a multitude of donors from around the world—which isn’t typically the status quo at the foundation. But $2.5 billion isn’t exactly chump change, even for a mammoth NGO like Gates.