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Bill and Melinda Gates
Bill and Melinda Gates visiting women in Jamsaut village in Bihar, India. (Gates Foundation Photo)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation says its economic impact in the Seattle region was $1.5 billion in 2015.

That’s a whopping sum — and the non-profit juggernaut came up with it by tallying direct spending via employees, vendors, and grants; indirect spending by recipients of the aforementioned direct spending; and employee spending in their communities, which the foundation calls “induced spending.”

The foundation says that $1.5 billion impact is the result of its $545 million in investments in the region in 2015.

The Gates Foundation pulled those numbers for its Economic Impact Study, a report detailing the organization’s effect in the Seattle area since opening its Seattle Center building in 2011.

The foundation invested about $300 million each year to non-profits in the Seattle region, including the University of Washington, PATH, and others, according to the report.

The Gates Foundation matches employee donations three-to-one, bringing the total annual dollars donated by members of the organization to about $9.5 million, the report says. Fifty-three percent of those employee donations go to locally based organizations. Those donations come from about 1,200 full-time Gates Foundation employees.

The report touts the Gates Foundation’s role in putting Seattle on the map as a hub for global health work.

“Our $1 billion investments in our region’s global health sector (e.g., Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation, Malaria No More, Infectious Disease Research Institute) have yielded extraordinary employment growth — according to the Washington Global Health Alliance, it’s now a $9.4 billion sector — and resulted in research that benefits people everywhere,” a Gates Foundation spokesperson told GeekWire in an email.

Despite the foundation’s success reducing deadly diseases, it’s not universally accepted as a boon for health in the developing world. Critics say the foundation is too cozy with big business and promotes industrial agriculture and private healthcare abroad.

The Gates Foundation has also taken flack for its missteps in public education domestically.

“Philanthropists are not generally education experts, and even if they hire scholars and experts, public officials shouldn’t be allowing them to set the policy agenda for the nation’s public schools,” writes the L.A. Times Editorial Board. “The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.”

But the road to amelioration is never straight and the non-profit has seen some success with its education initiatives in the Seattle region.

“Since 2010, we’ve invested nearly $50M in keeping [South] King County’s at-risk students on track, including full-day kindergarten for all seven school districts,” the Gates Foundation says. “When we started, only 51 percent of eligible 8th graders were signed up for the state College Bound Scholarship — now that number is 98 percent.”

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