Upon entering the Gates Foundation, visitors are met by the words:
“At the Gates Foundation, we believe every person deserves the chance to live a healthy, productive life.”
This sentence is at the heart of the approach taken by Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, to tackle the world’s toughest problems.
The spirit of the Foundation:
All individuals, no matter who they are, should have the chance to live a healthy and productive life. The word, “productive” is perhaps a bit surprising, but it is one of the determining factors for a good quality of life.
If everyone were born with the same opportunity to be self-sufficient, to be productive, and to be able to help others, then real development and progress could happen in the world.
The Foundation always keeps in mind the idea of community, which begins with the family, then progresses to village and district levels.
Community leaders, whether heads of families, village chiefs, mayors of cities or towns, etc. are considered by the Foundation as being responsible for the health and well-being of their people by providing adequate infrastructure, access to health care, nutritious food, clean water, etc.
The Foundation wants to create an ecosystem:
Bill Gates travels the world, meeting with heads of states, ministers, mayors of towns, chiefs of villages, officials of the World Bank, and private investors. Mr. Gates mobilizes decision-makers and promotes investment in worthy projects. His goal has been to put in place organisations which will be viable and which will continue long after the Foundation’s involvement has ended. This is why he co-invests andco-finances his projects.
For each dollar he donates, other investors must contribute an equal or greater amount.
The decision to invest in a project is never made alone. When collective decisions are made, various representatives of countries and governments, as well as investors and local leaders, are present.
Also, no investment is made without the certainty of it having a real impact with a positive result. To help insure a positive outcome, those who will benefit from the investment are included at the table when the decision is made.
At the Gates Foundation, the decision to invest in a project takes into account both financial and moral considerations.
The Foundation’s approach to identifying and solving health problems:
1,500 people work for the Foundation in Seattle. In addition, the Foundation has offices of about 20 people in Washington D.C., New Deli, Nigeria, Beijing, and soon Berlin.
Who are these people? They are experts and specialists who identify “gaps” in health care. In other words, they identify weaknesses and flaws which are the fundamental reasons (“root causes”) of health problems. These experts co-invent and co-design interventions and put them to work across a system of grants.
These experts strive to choose the solution that is best adapted for local conditions.
Once the “gaps” have been identified, the financial managers get involved. The subsidies are determined by the international partners working in the countries where the programs will be implemented.
There is a direct correlation between managerial competence and the success of a program.
Good management saves lives, so the logistics, planning, budget, and management of the teams must be tightly controlled.
The Foundation only supports programs it can verify and evaluate:
Unlike many other philanthropic organizations, the Gates Foundation takes a return on investment approach to its programs, judging their impact and measuring the success of them.
Bill Gates wants the leaders of countries whose people are impacted by health problems to have a stake in the solution. He therefore requires that the leaders devote at least a minimal amount of their nation’s tax revenue to improving the health of their citizens.
One of the most successful undertakings of the Foundation, has been its financing of vaccination programs.
In developing countries, infectious diseases are the most deadly: malaria, tuberculosis, and various neglected tropical diseases.
In 2000, Bill Gates decided to do what he could to improve access to vaccines. To this end, he became involved with an organization known as GAVI (Global Alliance For Vaccines and Immunization) which is dedicated to childhood immunizations. He decided to invest 750 million dollars with hopes that within two years the problem would be solved.
Two years later, he learned that only 250 million dollars had been able to be spent.
As he learned, it takes 18 months to create a vaccine. Furthermore, widespread vaccination on the level he had hoped for, required larger production facilities, larger cold storage rooms at airports, refrigerated trucks to transport the vaccines, refrigerators, syringes, and of course, health care workers to administer the vaccines to children brought by their mothers to clinics.
(Only 5%-12% of the cost of a vaccination is due to the cost of producing the vaccine; the rest of the cost is due to costs associated with proper transportation, storage, and administration of the vaccine.)
This example shows that the idea of a “magic bullet”, i.e. solving a problem simply by “throwing money at it”, does not exist.
GAVI funding has since been redesigned, taking a more global approach to the many aspects of providing access to vaccines.
As of today, an additional 900 million children have been vaccinated due to the work of GAVI, which corresponds to more than 12 million lives saved.
When the Foundation takes on a project, it manages it from A to Z. For example, when funding programs to help with childhood nutrition and the general health of mothers and their children (which are the primary objectives of the Foundation), the Foundation brings together not only members of the health care community or the minister of health, but also the ministers of agriculture and environment.
Access to clean drinking water, adequate amounts of protein and carbohydrates in food, the training of community-based village educators for women, are all as important to good health as is the discovery of the best drug.
The Foundation in the U.S.:
In the United States, the Foundation focuses primarily on two projects: Providing access to technology in libraries and the educating of prisoners.
All programs taken on by the Foundation are designed with an “exit strategy” and with an eye on the lasting future and scaling up of the projects initiated. A good example of this philosophy at work is the aforementioned prisoner education program which is now self-sufficient, managed by its own people, and which is no longer reliant on the Foundation.
The Discovery Center is free of charge. A visit to the Discovery Center is informative and enjoyable for visitors of all ages thanks to the detailed explanations, films, and the fun approach taken in the explaining of the Foundation’s programs.