Gates Foundation: ‘Solutions for people with the most urgent needs’

Melinda French Gates and Gary Darmstadt, director of the Family Health program, visit the Kangaroo Mother Care Unit at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. The success of the KMC program, which promotes infant health through skin-to-skin contact with mothers, has helped propel its expansion to 12 hospitals and five health clinics in Malawi. Photo by: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was selected as a Devex Top 40 Development Innovator based on a poll of thousands of global development professionals who are part of Devex, the largest network of aid and relief workers in the world.

Announced on April 18, Devex Top 40 Development Innovators is an impressive listing of the world’s leading donor agencies & foundations, development consulting companies, implementing NGOs, and advocacy groups.

We asked each of the Innovators four questions to learn how they stay ahead to the curve and tackle old development challenges in new ways. Here’s how the Gates Foundation responded:

‘Together we will apply new thinking to big problems and find solutions for people with the most urgent needs’

If you had to condense it to just one or two sentences, overall, what is it that makes your organization innovative?

Our approach to giving emphasizes partnership, innovation, risk and, most importantly, results. Achieving our goals requires the flexibility to learn from mistakes and adjust strategy accordingly. We fund innovative ideas that could help remove barriers that prevent people from making the most of their lives, such as: new techniques to help farmers in developing countries grow more food and earn more money, new tools to prevent and treat deadly diseases, and new methods to help students and teachers in the classroom.

Can you provide a specific example of something your organization has done that is particularly innovative?

Grand Challenges Explorations fosters innovation in global health research. The foundation has committed $100 million to encourage scientists worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas to fight our greatest health challenges. Launched in 2008, Grand Challenge Explorations grants have already been awarded to 405 researchers from 34 countries.

Looking ahead 10 years, what are some of the innovations in international development that your organization wants to be a part of?

As a foundation, we have bold goals and urge others to help solve issues of inequity. We’re optimistic about what can be accomplished, but success requires the cooperation of many partners around the world.

For example, by 2020, we believe the lives of more than 8 million children can be saved by making existing vaccines available to more children in need, and by creating and delivering new vaccines against diseases like malaria. Our confidence that this is an achievable goal led us to commit $10 billion for vaccine-related projects over the next decade. But to succeed, the world needs a collective and sustained effort, involving public and private funders, developing countries, researchers, vaccine companies, and many others. That is why Bill and Melinda Gates recently called upon others to join in making the next 10 years a “Decade of Vaccines.”

Through our work in agricultural development, we are working to help the world’s poorest farming families in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia lift themselves out of extreme poverty. In addition to increased incomes, we expect to see decreased childhood malnutrition and improved household nutrition for the nearly 2.5 billion people in the developing world that live on less than $2 a day. We feel strongly that solutions are within reach — and that progress is possible on a large scale, even in very poor countries.

In the United States, our mission is to help dramatically improve education so that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We seek to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career and prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate with value in the workplace.

One factor in driving innovation at any organization is the talent you hire and the partnerships you make. How does your organization take into account innovation when it comes to cultivating talent and partners?

Our foundation is teaming up with people and organizations around the world to take on some tough problems: extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries and the failures of America’s education system. We employ an outstanding leadership team to direct our strategies and grantmaking. But our resources alone are not enough; that’s why we advocate and form partnerships. We believe that by focusing on a few big goals and working with our partners on innovative solutions we can help every person get the chance to live a healthy, productive life.

Check out the full listing of all Devex Top 40 Development Innovators on Facebook.

About the author