Gates Foundation Pulls Funding From Saudi Charity Over Khashoggi Murder

Bill Gates
Theo Wargo / Getty Images

A month after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pulled funding to the Saudi Arabian-based Misk Foundation, which was founded by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, according to the Seattle Times.

The decision ends a joint initiative between the Gates Foundation and the Misk Foundation called the Misk Grand Challenges, which made grants to organizations around the world who were working to create innovative solutions to development challenges. Last year, the Gates Foundation committed $5 million to the Misk Grant Challenges.

“Jamal Khashoggi’s abduction and murder are extremely troubling,” said the Gates Foundation in a statement.

“We are observing current events with concern, and we do not plan to fund any subsequent rounds of the Misk Grant Challenges program.”

The rescinded patronage of the Gates Foundation is the latest in a string of pullbacks from Saudi Arabia by western organizations since the October 2 murder of Khashoggi, who was an outspoken critic of Muhammad bin Salman and the Saudi regime. Khashoggi was well-known in American circles due to his visibility as a columnist for The Washington Post. Western and Turkish intelligence agencies assert that bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi. The Gates Foundation’s decision comes a couple of weeks after world business leaders withdrew from a business conference in Riyadh hosted by bin Salman. That lag time may reflect the difficulty of the decision.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

“I would imagine they didn’t really want to pull the plug on this thing,” said David Callahan, founder of the trade publication Inside Philanthropy.

The Gates Foundation, which has provided $1.5 million in funding to the Misk Grant Challenges, will continue to fund entrepreneurs that it has already funded.

The Misk Foundation will be waiting to see if other partners follow the Gates Foundation’s lead. Harvard University, Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter are also philanthropic partners of the Misk Foundation. The benefit to the Misk Foundation would have gone far beyond the monetary value of the Gates Foundation partnership, as that relationship was a key factor in securing donations from other organizations.

“Being funded by the Gates Foundation has huge cachet,” said Callahan.

The decision by the Gates Foundation highlights a growing dilemma for global philanthropic projects. There is no doubt that there is a tremendous need for these projects by young, gifted people in developing parts of the world. However, that must be counterbalanced against dealing with wealthy yet controversial partners.

“Historically, there has been a lot of philanthropic money that doesn’t come from the best characters, from John D. Rockefeller onward,” said Callahan.

“So it’s this perennial conundrum: how much do you care where the money came from versus how much good it can do in the world? I think that’s a tough choice.”