Friday, July 21, 2006

Thoughts provoked by the Buffett/Gates Gift

A recent NYT story about bloggers bashing each other in the business world started by raising the issues of whether reporting about Warren Buffett's recent gift to the Gates Foundation was going to cause unrest among Berkshire Hathaway investors. What was interesting to me in this whole exchange was this:

"[Mr. Mitchell (editor of The Audit]'s point...was... "There are two kinds of story," he wrote, "the whole story, and the incomplete story. A business story that doesn't reference the politics, a stock price story doesn't note the long-term growth strategy, a marketing story that doesn't outline the financial implications, they're all presenting incomplete pictures, and thereby somehow deluding the reader.

He also criticized newspapers for having separate sections, which he said serves only to skew information and news."

All of which got me to thinking about how philanthropy excels in framing "incomplete pictures." When we segment grantmaking and program initiatives into health, art, education or environment (etc. etc.) and then try to understand, influence, and improve or change those distinct areas without considering, reconsidering, and reconsidering - at every step - how these issues relate to and are shaped by the others. If we could have newspapers without sections, could we have foundations without program departments? Would it be any better?

Its fitting that the story above came up in the context of the Buffett/Gates gift. The parties involved in that exchange have noted that now - with increased resources - the Gates Foundation's work on health, which has existed in a "fight poverty" frame - might be expanded to include other contributing factors to poverty besides health. Perhaps the "incomplete story" and its "real story" will both be addressed.

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