The foundation’s CEO Jeff Raikes, who spent close to three decades at Microsoft before taking up the assignment in 2008, talks about the milestones and challenges during his recent visit here.
The $33.5-billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is constantly exploring innovative ways to tackle challenges in global healthcare, sanitation, poverty, education and agriculture.
These include bringing in business techniques to problem solving, partnering with global corporations for low-cost solutions and funding R&D in areas of neglected diseases such as tuberculosis.
The Foundation has committed $1 billion to programmes in India and is also expanding its role globally. However, it faces the criticism of aligning with interests of big pharma and agri-business giants such as Monsanto and Cargill. Raikes debunks such criticism.
“We are taking advantage of a range of solutions, some of which come from those organisations and some from others. They make a difference for the people we serve. For example, we may work with an agricultural development company to take advantage of their intellectual property and pay royalty fee on behalf of the poor. The partnership benefits the poor, not the company.”
So, is the Foundation against open innovation? “Certainly not. Take, for example, agriculture – we take intellectual property from agricultural companies and help, say, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). That is essentially open innovation (like developing water-efficient maize crop for AATF in partnership with Monsanto and others),” says Raikes.
How does he assess the Foundation’s work in India? “The success of Avahan (started in 2003) shows how you can build large-scale health intervention, in this case to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS. Another example was the eradication of polio. This is an important milestone.
Now we are focusing on an integrated approach to interventions across a range of our programmes, from vaccines, tuberculosis management, family health, improved sanitation, agricultural development to financial services for the poor,” says Raikes.
US president Barack Obama recently talked about concerns of US businessmen over the deteriorating investment climate in India. Are there similar impediments when it comes to philanthropy? “Obama has his own problems back home. To be successful in India, you have to garner broad support.
So, if it is vaccine initiative – like the pentavalent vaccine initiative with the Avahan programme or the Ananya (to improve health of women and new born) initiative in Bihar – you have to be aware of the different set of interest groups that will have a point of view. I just consider that to be part of what we have to do to succeed,” says Raikes.
Is the business of making money different from that of giving money? “The latter is tougher. There are similarities too.
R&D projects in software are similar to the kind of R&D we do here – both need a disciplined approach. There are differences too. In the private sector, you have the market system giving you continuous feedback that is generally true, except for long-term R&D.
Here, you have to think about measuring the impact of your work. That could be number of lives saved, deaths reduced, disease burden reduced,” says Raikes.
He strongly believes that government support is vital to meeting the Foundation’s objectives. “Partnership is the only way that these goals can be accomplished. What we essentially do is catalytic philanthropy. We make grants to our partners who develop innovative interventions.
Based on evidence of their success, they could be scaled up and sustained by the public or the private sector. For example, we underwrote meningitis vaccine development efforts where the Serum Institute was an important part.
There was no clear market opportunity because it was targeted at the poor in sub-Saharan Africa. We took that risk and they developed a vaccine. That is an example of investments in innovative interventions,” says Raikes.
He reckons that India with its technological leadership has the capacity to be a huge provider of vaccines to other parts of the world. “If you take, for example, the meningitis vaccine programme in sub-Saharan Africa, Serum Institute was an integral part of that success,” says Raikes.
What is the difference in philanthropic work in emerging and developed markets? “There is a strong culture of philanthropy in the US and charitable contributions account for a substantial portion of GDP.
In India, the culture is not the same. I am optimistic that it will develop here and those who have created great businesses will think about how they can put their resources back into society. One of my friends is Azim Premji and what he is doing with his foundation is an example and there will be more like him that follow.”
(Jeff Raikes is the Chief executive officer at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
(Source : Economic Times, 30 July 2012)