Rotary Foundation Basics, Part 2: Where Does the Money Go?

by Quentin Wodon

This second post in a series of three looks at how funding provided by The Rotary Foundation (TRF) is allocated. TRF disbursed $232 million in program expenses last year. More than half ($131 million) was allocated PolioPlus, with the rest allocated to Rotary grants ($92 million) and other programs ($ 8 million). This post briefly describes and discusses those investments.

TRF Polio Vaccine


TRF gave $131 million in 2013-14 for polio. While the report does not state explicitly where the funding came from, simple calculations suggest that two thirds may have come from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), with the rest provided by Rotarians. This is because from 2013 to 2018, for every dollar raised by Rotary for PolioPlus, BMGF provides a 2 to 1 match up to a maximum of $70 million per year, as shown in the Figure below. In addition, TRF’s annual report mentions a previous $20 million match by BMGF for polio on the revenue side. If the $90 million in revenues provided by BMGF for polio were allocated the same year to TRF program expenses (this is not stated explicitly in the report), then Rotarians would have contributed in 2013-14 about a third of total TRF program expenses for polio. If my assumption is erroneous, please let me know!

TRF Polio

As mentioned in my first post for this blog, Polio used to be a devastating disease worldwide, affecting 30,000 children per year in the US alone in the mid-1950s. Thanks to vaccines and mass immunization, the number of polio cases has dropped to close to zero. This has been a great success built on public-private partnerships. While many governments have funded polio eradication campaigns, after the United States (with $2.2 billion in contributions and pledges) the two largest donors from 1985 to 2014 have been private foundations – BMGF ($1.9 billion) and Rotary International ($1.3 billion). Apart from financial donations, hundreds of thousands of volunteers – including many Rotarians – have participated in polio vaccination campaigns.

Today, it seems to me from informal conversations with fellow Rotarians that some wonder whether it still makes sense to spend that much money on a disease that now affects few children. Is this the best investment that TRF can make? This is a difficult question to answer, but there is evidence that at the very least, this is a good investment, simply because the cost of a spreading virus could be much higher than the cost of the polio eradication campaigns. A report prepared last year for BMGF suggests that previous investments of $9 billion since the creation in 1984 of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) may have generated $27 billion in net benefits out of $40-50 billion in potential benefits estimated by researchers in an economic analysis of GPEI. Investments in polio eradication campaigns do have higher initial costs than routine immunization, but they may also have greater long term payoffs.

At the same time, we need to be careful in what we promise. It is important to reach the last mile towards polio eradication, but this will not be easy. Vaccination remains difficult in conflict affected areas, and the risk of exportation of the virus from those areas to other countries is real. As the TRF report highlights, only three countries remain polio-endemic today (Pakistan, Afganisthan, and Nigeria). But reports documented polio outbreaks last year in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Central Africa, leading the World Health Organization to declare in May 2014 that the spread of the virus constituted an “extraordinary event”. In terms of costs and funding as well, there seem to be some challenges. In a February 2014 report, UNICEF and WHO estimated the price tag for polio eradication for the period 2013-18 at $5.5 billion. At the time, available and confirmed contributions amounted to $1.8 billion, so that there was a funding gap of $3.7 billion.

Rotary Grants and Other Programs

TRF’s annual report provides great stories of impact in other areas of interventions apart from polio, but relatively limited details on how funds are allocated by thematic area. The information provided focuses on the allocation of funds for global grants in each of six areas of focus of TRF apart from polio. A total of $47.3 million was disbursed for global grants in 2013-14. As shown in the Figure below, disease prevention and treatment received the largest allocation (265 grants for a total value of $14.2 million), followed by water and sanitation (198 grants and $11.2 million), economic and community development (148 grants and $7.8 million), basic education and literacy (121 grants and $6.5 million), maternal and child health (69 grants and $5.1 million), and finally peace and conflict prevention/resolution (67 grants and $2.7 million, excluding allocations to Rotary peace centers in a handful of universities).

TRF Global Grants

Information is also available in the TRF annual report on which regions benefit from the largest amount of funding all programs combined. Sub-Saharan Africa came first, with $104 million in funding provided, followed by South Asia ($56 million), East Asia and the Pacific ($24 million), North America ($19 million), the Middle East and North Africa as well as Europe (each $9 million), Central America and the Caribbean ($6 million), Latin America ($5 million), and finally Russia, Georgia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (less than $1 million).

That’s it for the basics of how TRF program expenses are allocated. While a majority of funds allocated by TRF go to polio, quite a bit of this investment comes from matching funds provided by BMGF, so that a large share of the funds donated by Rotarians or earned by the foundation from its assets go to other priority areas. In the last post in this series, I will discuss the foundation’s performance.

Note: This post is part of a series of three on TRF: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

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