The Saviorism of Melinda Gates: Eugenics, Philanthrocapitalism, and the Perils of ‘Western’ Feminisms

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In this thesis, I aim to historically analyze and explicate long-lasting issues with philanthropic programs, specifically their health programs, by using Melinda Gates and her family planning programs at the Gates Foundation as a case study for the harms of philanthrocapitalism. Philanthrocapitslism was initially defined by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green in their book Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World (2008) as a form of philanthropy conducted through a capitalist business-model by entrepreneurs. In addition to looking at the dangers of Melinda Gates’ philanthrocapitalism, this thesis also focuses on the specific history of family planning programs and outlines its history with eugenics to show how this history continues to shape Gates’ family planning programs. I analyze examples from the Population Council, a population control organization founded by eugenicists and funded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations among others. Comparing the Population Council’s eugenic research and programs to Melinda Gates’ work in the Gates Foundation, I show the throughlines between past eugenic movements and her work today. Finally, I do a close reading of Melinda Gates’ word choices in her book The Moment of Lift (2019), TedTalk, and the Gates Discovery Center, a public museum in Seattle, to dissect the saviorism underlying her philanthropic work. I connect the saviorism in her work to past and current philanthropy foundations as well as contextualizing her language choices as examples of Western feminist frameworks. Overall, this thesis shows the issues underlying Melinda Gates’ family planning programs by connecting them to past racist, imperialist programs of a similar nature.





Alexander, Audrey (2023). The Saviorism of Melinda Gates: Eugenics, Philanthrocapitalism, and the Perils of ‘Western’ Feminisms. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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