Open Letter to Mark Suzman

Dear Mark,

Congratulations on publishing your first Annual Letter. It provides an important insight into the way you, your new board, and your team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are viewing the world and the challenges we face.  As your letter demonstrates, the COVID-19 pandemic has been THE story your first two years as CEO. In your letter, you comment, “Above all, we have focused our resources on making sure support reaches marginalized communities as quickly and effectively as possible.”

As the Movement for Community-led Development, a civil society initiative that comprises 70+ INGOs and 1500+ community-based organizations, we prefer to ask how communities can access the support they need for lives of self-reliance and dignity.  This Movement takes very seriously the Talisman left by Mahatma Gandhi – that we should imagine the face of the poorest person we’ve ever seen and ask whether the action we contemplate will restore that person to control over her own life and destiny. We believe that shifting resources and decision-making authority to grassroots communities, restoring control to the people living in hunger and poverty, is the best, and perhaps only, pathway to achieving the SDGs.

This Talisman is the very essence of the “decolonization” and localization agendas that today are at the forefront of global development. It is the heart of  a broad #ShiftThePower movement.

We’ve witnessed the importance of that transformation. As “outsiders” were pulled out of impoverished villages during lockdowns, community leaders stepped forward to protect their neighbors. 

Community leaders – and most especially women leaders – translated World Health Organization messages into indigenous languages, spreading them with bullhorns and  WhatsApp groups. They’ve turned locked down schools into isolation wards, mobilized community philanthropy to feed those whose livelihoods were devastated, and used the trust their neighbors place in them to fight disinformation and promote vaccination. Their leadership has been a critical lifeline for thousands of people worldwide. 

BMGF has had a remarkable impact, and we would never for a moment suggest that the Foundation stop funding  vital top-level institutions such as GAVI and the Africa CDC, or funding scientific Grand Challenges. In addition to that vital work, we challenge the Foundation to also find ways to support communities to access what they need for lives of self-reliance and dignity.

To start, we have four core questions that The Foundation could invest in, which we believe would yield tremendous dividends for society: 

  • How can the vast array of community-based organizations in low-income countries – particularly women’s organizations – fund themselves? Currently less than 2% of the OECD aid tagged for “gender” goes to grassroots women’s organizations.
  • How can we encourage governments to devolve a fair-share of public resources – at least 20% – to local communities?
  • How can we best ensure that women, youth and marginalized groups have a voice in local governance?
  • Given that resilience is inherently a community-level attribute and that community leaders are ALWAYS the first responders, how can we ensure a fair share of climate funding supports local communities to strengthen their capacity to adapt to and mitigate climate change?

Finally, given the commitment of The Foundation to measure its work in “opportunities provided for the poorest and most marginalized to achieve their full potential,” we believe that it is crucial that employees at BMGF have the opportunity to hear directly from people living in these communities. As such, we invite the Gates Foundation to join the Movement for Community-led Development! Hundreds of community leaders and practitioners have embraced the Movement for Community-led Development as a platform for accessing accurate information, expressing their collective voice with their own governments and mobilizing collective action. As a member of this Movement, your expert staff could both contribute to and learn from community leaders worldwide. 

Sincerely, (as of 7 February 2022)

A-Core Wing Foundation inc., Liberia

African Education Program, Zambia

African Women Service Trust (AWOST), Uganda

Afro Ethiopia Integrated Development (AEID), Ethiopia

Amani Initiative , Uganda

America Solidaria U.S., United States

Andatana Communitive Care and Empowerment Initiative (ACCEI), Nigeria

Another Chance Initiative, Kenya

Ashwasti EICT DRF, India

BetterHag, Uganda

Build Peace and Development, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Center for Caring, Empowerment and Peace Initiatives (CCEPI), Nigeria

Centre for Promotion of Love and Peace in Africa, Nigeria

ChildFund, Ethiopia

DMS Consulting, South Africa

Education Must Continue Initiative & Youth Empowerment (EMCI), Nigeria

Ethiopian Orthodx Tewahedo Church Child and Family Affairs Organization, Ethiopia

Family Harvest Foundation, Uganda

Fana Addis Tiwulid Ethiopia, Ethiopia

Food and Agricultural Rights Movement, Liberia

Grass Root Development Center for Peace and Social Justice, Nigeria

GRDCPSJ, Nigeria

Heifer international, Ethiopia

Hemtog Foundation, Uganda

HOBFU Organization,Rwanda

International Accountability Project (IAP), Brazil

Interweave Solutions, Liberia

Jauro Interfaith Shades Foundation (JISF), Nigeria

Knowledge and Awareness for All, Kenya

Lunga Development Association, Zambia

Mansofinia Agric Farmers’Organization (MAFO), Sierra Leone

MCLD Bénin Chapter

MCLD Liberia Chapter

MCLD Uganda Chapter

Mengo Youth Development Link ( MYDEL), Uganda

Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development, Uganda

Nakowa Legacy Empowerment Foundation(NLEF), Nigeria

Naza Agape foundation, Nigeria

New Beginnings Mission, Uganda

OAJ/EUA (NGO), Benin

OneVillage Partners, Sierra Leone


Our community Focus, Ghana

Outreach International, United States

Peace Direct, United States

Peer to peer, Uganda

Picture Impact, United States

Plateforme des Organisations de Jeunes pour le Développement Durable des Communautés (POJ-DDC), Benin

Polycom Development, Kenya

R. Walker Business Consulting, Philippines

Sahei Gender Development Initiative, Nigeria

Save the Climat, Democratic Republic of the Congo 

Siddartha Development, Ethiopia

Smart Youth Network initiative, Uganda

SOS CIVISME, Central African Republic

Strategic Action for Community Development, Nigeria (SACDN), Nigeria

Support Agency for Intellectual Disabilities (SAID), Uganda

Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN), Uganda

TERSHA LLC, United States

The Great Abwao Community (TGAC) CBO, Kenya

The Hunger Project Bangladesh, Bangladesh

The Global Hunger Project, United States

The Hunger Project Sweden, Sweden

Touch the Heart, Uganda

Uganda National Farmers Federation(UNFFE), Uganda

Vulnerable and Abused Intervention Initiative (VAII), Nigeria

WEEMA International, United States

Welfare, Empowerment and Rehabilitation Organization, Afghanistan

White Ribbon Alliance, United States

Wilmat Development Foundation (WDF), Uganda

Women Solidarity and Development, Liberia

World Connect, United States

Young Agro-Green Africa Network (YAGANET), Uganda

Youth Empowerment and Human Development Initiative – NGO, Nigeria

Youth Service Africa (YSA), Benin

Featured photo: The Hunger ProjectIndia