Impact at Scale: Gates Foundation Celebrates 15 Years

Community, Leadership

After her first year as CEO of the world’s largest foundation Susan Desmond-Hellmann remains excited about the pace of innovation, ending several diseases in Africa, sanitation and hygiene in India, and new payment systems for the world’s poor.

“Our ambitions are massive,” said Dr. Desmond-Hellmann of the Seattle-based, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nearly 1400 staff members orchestrate $5 billion in annual investments.

In its 15 year, Desmond-Hellmann said it was time to wart off arrogance, bureaucracy, and complacency. In her first annual state of the foundation speech, she promised to place external impact over internal process and committed to truth telling and constructive conflict. “Innovation takes risk,” said Helmond.

Bill and Melinda have said that things will get better at faster rates than they ever have in next 15 years as a result of impact investments and technological advances. The trustees can imagine ending poverty as we know it.

Warren Buffet, the third Gates Foundation trustee, agrees with the basic tenant that, “Every life has equal value. Buffet set an example for other wealthy individuals by giving away a majority of his wealth and encouraging others to sign the Giving Pledge.

Bill Gates Senior is proud that the foundation has funded 18,000 student scholarships (over 20,000 with Washington State and Cambridge Scholars).

As an example of the foundation’s growing contribution the former head of U.S. advocacy Dr. Stephanie Sanford, now with College Board, cited the graduation rate compact of 2005, a partnership of Achieve, NGA, and CCSSO, that resulted in a national standard for reporting graduation rates and paved the way for Common Core State Standards. The foundation’s focus on the national graduation rate, including sponsoring more than 1200 new high schools, contributed to improvement from about 66% in the 90s to more than 81% today.

Former head of USAID Dr. Raj Shah cited a financing facility for immunization as another foundation advocacy contribution. With Sylvia Mathews Burwell (now HHS Secretary), Shah constructed the facility while leading the foundation’s global development efforts.

Shah appreciated the opportunity at the Foundation to, “Ask unthinkable questions about solving global problems not just do some good.”

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