13 March 2009

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Traditionally I've tried to share with you a variety of organizations and causes you may not be familiar with. Today I thought it would be good to provide information on an organization many people have heard of, but few actually know the specifics of its work: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

At the core of the foundation's mission is the belief that every life has equal worth. Their goal is to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. Formed in 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed a total of $19.8 billion since its inception, giving $2.8 billions in grants in 2008. Their work reaches all 50 United States and the District of Columbia and over 100 countries internationally.

The foundation work is defined by 15 Guiding Principles:
  1. This is a family foundation driven by the interests and passions of the Gates family.
  2. Philanthropy plays an important but limited role.
  3. Science and technology have great potential to improve lives around the world.
  4. We are funders and shapers- we rely on others to act and implement.
  5. Our focus is clear- and limited- and prioritizes some of the most neglected issues.
  6. We identify a specific point of intervention and apply our efforts against a theory of change.
  7. We take risks, make big bets, and move with urgency. We are in it for the long haul.
  8. We advocate- vigorously but responsibly- in our areas of focus
  9. We must be humble and mindful in our actions and words. We seek and heed the counsel of outside voices.
  10. We treat our grantees as valued partners and we treat the ultimate beneficiaries of our work with respect.
  11. Delivering results with the resources we have been given is of the utmost importance- and we seek and share information about those results.
  12. We demand ethical behavior of ourselves.
  13. We treat each other as valued colleagues.
  14. Meeting our mission- to increase opportunity and equity for those most in need- requires great stewardship of the money we have available.
  15. We leave room for growth and change.
This principles reflect the Gate's family's beliefs about the role of philanthropy and the impact they want this foundation to have.

Their approach to giving is a cyclical process: develop strategy, make grants, measure progress, adjust strategy, repeat.

The Seattle based foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Their work is divided between international and national work. In developing countries the focus is on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the U.S. the foundation seeks to ensure that all people- especially those with the fewest resources- have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation focuses on grant making in three areas:

1. Global Development Program- focusing on areas with the potential for high-impact, sustainable solutions that can reach hundreds of millions of people. They work closely with partners to support innovative approaches and expand existing one so they can reach the people who need them the most. They also support policy and advocacy efforts to accelerate progress against the world's most acute poverty. 
Their work supports: 
  • Agricultural development, financial services for the poor
  • Special initiatives (libraries, water, sanitation, and hygiene, urban poverty, emergency relief)
  • Policy and advocacy.

2. Global Health Program- its mission is to help ensure that advances in health are created and shared with those who need them most. They work with organizations around the world that are using innovative methods to improve health in developing countries. 
They focus on three priority areas: 
  • Discover new insights to fight serious diseases ad other health problems affecting developing countries
  • Develop effective and affordable vaccines, medicines, and other health tools
  • Deliver proven health solutions to those who need them most.

The foundation targets diseases and health conditions that cause the greatest illness and death in developing countries, yet receive little attention and resources. They support advocacy efforts to build awareness of global health challenges, develop new ways to finance health programs, and improve health data.  In particular they support the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, which funds research on scientific problems that, if solved, could lead to advances against multiple diseases.

3. United States Program- its mission is to help ensure greater opportunity for all Americans through the attainment of secondary and post-secondary education with genuine economic value. The foundation works with partners to tackle some of the difficult problems we face in the United States. Their primary focus is on improving public education. 

Their priority areas include:
  • Education- work to make sure high school students graduate ready for success ad prepared to earn post-secondary degrees. They fund college and graduate school scholarships. They support high-quality early learning programs in Washington state.
  • Libraries- support efforts to supply and sustain free public access to computers and the internet through local public libraries.
  • Pacific Northwest- assist struggling families by supporting early childhood learning programs and efforts that help break the cycle of homelessness.
  • Special Initiatives- explore new ways to increase opportunities or respond to unique challenges in the U.S. These currently include grants that support post-secondary education and emergency relief efforts. They also offer support to many dedicated and innovative community organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
They also use advocacy to raise awareness of the issues we face, inform government policy, and develop new and innovative ways of financing initiatives that improve outcomes.

I should note that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does not and will not solicit for donations. They have the funds needed to advance their mission. Instead they preference donors to give directly to the foundation's grantee organizations. If you still wish to donate to the foundation, you should read their guidelines for accepting individual donations.

Their website is filled with information on the foundation and the organizations and causes they support. I urge to visit the website to learn more about the foundation you've heard so much about.

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