Inside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The headquarters of probably the most powerful charity in the world, and one of the most quietly influential international organisations of any sort, currently stand between a derelict restaurant and a row of elderly car repair businesses. Gentrification has yet to fully colonise this section of the Seattle waterfront, and even the actual premises of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which, appropriately perhaps, used to be a cheque-processing plant, retain a certain workaday drabness. Only four storeys high, with long rows of windows but no hint of corporate gloss, its beige and grey box sits anonymously in the drizzly northern Pacific light.
There is no sign outside the building. There is not even an entrance from the street. Instead, visitors must take a side road, stop at a separate gatehouse, also unmarked, and introduce themselves to a security guard, of the eerily polite and low-key kind employed by ex-heads of state and the extremely rich. Once admitted, you cross a car park full of modest vehicles and, if you are lucky, glimpse one of the world-renowned health or poverty specialists working for the foundation, dressed in the confidently casual Seattle office uniform of chinos and rainproofs. Then you reach the reception: finally, there is a small foundation logo on the wall, and beside it a few lyrical photographs of children and farmers in much dustier and less prosperous places than Seattle. Only past the reception, almost hidden away on a landing, is there a reminder of the foundation’s status and contacts: a vivid shirt in a glass case, presented during a visit by Nelson Mandela.