Qatar gives $50m to Gates-backed anti-poverty fund

The $2.5bn fund, supported by Bill Gates and the Islamic Development Bank, aims to raise millions out of poverty in some of the world's poorest Muslim states

The Qatar Development Fund has pledged $50m to a pool of funds designed to help unlock capital for some of the world’s poorest Islamic countries.

The gift edges the Lives and Livelihoods Fund (LLF) – a joint project of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) – closer to its goal of raising $2.5bn, to be given as affordable loans to Muslim countries.

“[The] project will lift millions of lives out of poverty in the countries that need it most,” Khalifa bin Jassim Al Kuwari, director general of the QDF, the country’s aid arm, said at a ceremony in Doha attended by Bill Gates.

Of the 1 billion people living in absolute poverty globally, some 400 million live in Muslim countries, according to the Gates Foundation. Efforts to tackle the root causes of poverty in these states can be hindered by a lack of funding – and particularly of cheap funding. While the IDB extends financing for projects in areas such as education, health and sanitation, its existing concessionary interest rate of 6 to 7 per cent is out of reach for its poorest members.

"It’s an incredible opportunity for anyone who cares about driving social change to contribute"

The LLF seeks to address this gap, by blending loans and grant funding to cut the cost of borrowing to developing Muslim states. IDB will extend up to $2bn in IDB funding over the next five years, for projects in health, agriculture and infrastructure. The Gates Foundation is raising $500m in grants to shave the interest payments on those loans. The foundation has put in $100m, matched by the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development. Qatar’s $50m pledge helps plug the remaining $300m gap.

“For every $20 donated by businesses, private individuals and governments, the fund will generate $100 of investment in projects that support the building blocks of life – fighting infectious diseases, primary healthcare, agriculture, clean water, better sanitation, food security, and access to energy,” Bill Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, wrote in November last year. “It’s an incredible opportunity for anyone who cares about driving social change to contribute.”

The LLF is likely to begin extending loans this summer, to countries such as Afghanistan, Chad and Sudan.

“The concessionary finance behind the LLF enables us to maximise the impact of your donation,” Khalifa Al Kuwari said.

In separate news, Melinda Gates yesterday paid tribute to efforts made by the UAE to support the global eradication of polio. The Gulf state formed part of a coalition of governments and private donors that in 2013 raised $4bn towards a campaign to wipe out the paralysing virus. In 2016, just 10 cases have been reported, in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the disease remains endemic.

Speaking at the court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Gates also urged the audience to help push forward programmes to help women and girls around the world. More investment is needed in three key areas, she said: increasing access to healthcare, boosting their ability to make decisions in the household and community, and growing access to economic opportunities.

“When we invest in women, we invest in the most critical asset across the planet because when women’s lives get better, every single thing improves for the children in that household,” said Gates. “For every $1 invested in health, the returns are $9 to a low or middle income family.”

She added: “The longer we’ve come to do this work, the more we believe and have seen the fact that we need to empower women and girls or we won’t get to where we want to get as a world. We know this progress won’t happen on its own. The world is moving in the right direction, because not only men but also women are pushing that agenda forward.”