'India Is Top Priority For Gates Foundation'
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01 November 2010
Jeff Raikes , the man behind Microsoft Office software and one of the first 100 employees of the software giant, shifted gears in 2008 – from running the business division of Microsoft as its president to CEO of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , the world’s largest private foundation.
It was not the best of times to make a career switch, particularly when the Foundation saw almost $8 billion of its about $34–billion corpus erode in the global financial meltdown. That, 52–year–old Mr Raikes says, was tough, but did not curb the Foundation’s programmes or spending, which averages about $3.5 billion a year on worldwide projects to fight diseases like polio, HIV, malaria and TB.
The money (managed by the investment arm of the Foundation, a separate entity, for which he is not responsible) has now been recovered with recovering global markets and Mr Raikes has new plans on how to spend it. In an exclusive interview with Shelley Singh and Khomba Singh, Mr Raikes, who has spent 28 years with Microsoft and two with the Foundation, talks about the latter’s work in India, how the rich can contribute to philanthropy and more. Excerpts:
Last time Bill Gates was here (in May 2010) he had discussions with vaccine manufacturers in the country. What has been the progress on that? What diseases are they targeting?
We see a great opportunity for the Indian vaccine manufacturing community to not only make a greater impact in India but to help children in other parts of the world. The discussion you refer to were Foundation discussions. Our highest priority for vaccines are the pentavalent vaccine. The pentavalent vaccine combines antigens against five diseases targeted through vaccination in children – diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Haemophilus Influenza type B (HIB). Others are vaccines for pneumococcal diseases and rotavirus vaccine (prevents diarrhoea among infants). Of course, number one priority is polio.
How much of the $3.5–billion annual spend of the Foundation is committed to India?
The way is to look at our strategy and see our commitment. Look at our top priorities – polio, India is top priority; vaccine delivery, again India is a top priority, agriculture is top priority for the Foundation and top priority for us in India is malaria eradication. Family health is top priority for the Foundation and top priority here. HIV prevention and treatment efficiency is another of our top seven priorities. One of the biggest programmes on HIV, Avahan, is in India. So far, we would have spent about $1.6 billion on programmes in India. Though let me caution you on that number. We make a grant to an organisation in one country and then that grant comes here. So it is almost certainly more than $1.6 billion when you add it up, as we work through lot of grantees (like UNICEF).
Do you believe the Foundation will alone be able to achieve its goals or would you seek some kind of government intervention?
Government partnership is absolutely critical. The key priority of the Gates Foundation is what you might think of as catalytic philanthropy. Our financial resources (over $34 billion) may seem large but they are actually a very small percentage of the overall funding needs for the types of issues we take on. For example, vaccines delivery. What we need to do is spend our resources in a way that can be a catalyst for action. So, if we can come up with a new vaccine or a new approach and show the evidence for the efficacy such that the government sector and/or the private sector can scale up that intervention. That’s the way for us to be successful. Government partnerships are absolutely essential.
The number of high net–worth individuals in India has crossed over 1,00,000 and that figure is increasing about 11% a year. Do you have a specific programme to target them?
That’s not the priority of the Gates Foundation. Bill & Melinda’s work to encourage other individuals to think about how they are going to invest back in society, the ‘Giving Pledge’ initiative is a personal programme. It has a little bit of staff support from the Foundation. But that’s largely Bill, Melinda and Warren (Buffett) doing that. If some of the high net–worth individuals want advice from me, I will be glad to help.
What would you advise them?
The number one advice that I will give to anyone who has been very successful and accumulated a lot of wealth is to think about what they ultimately want to do with that wealth. Do you want to give it to your children? Or do you want to invest in the society to raise the opportunity for others? If you choose the latter approach, then the next thing that I would encourage you to do is start thinking as soon as you can about what are going to be the ways in which you would like to use your financial resources to make a difference to the world and start learning about those areas and opportunities.
Start to think about who are the people you would tap to work with you on that kind of activity. What Melinda and Bill are encouraging wealthy individuals to think well before the end of their lives is how they would like to make a difference to society, though it’s totally fine for business people to focus on their business and continue making more money.
How do you assess the Foundation’s work? What are the metrics you watch?
The key metric you aspire is long–term sustainable change. So, for example on agriculture development we aspire to triple the income of 150 small–holder farmers – 90 million in South Asia (most of them in India) and 60 million in sub–Saharan Africa. We are looking at small–holder farmers living at $1 a day, people living in extreme poverty, to lift them out of poverty. We think it is feasible to do so in 15–years time. That’s a big aspiration. If you are going to get there you will have to break it down into manageable chunks. But this is different from doing business.
Sometimes it’s like the business of R&D. You have to live with the fact that you can’t measure everything precisely. You do your best and try and make sure it works. When we work with the grantees, we do a graph to lay out the expectations. We have periodic reporting, like an annual report where they share progress on metrics we have agreed upon. We have programme officers who track the progress.
We have seen Indian billionaires and wealthy often invest in Harvard University, like getting a Hall named after them or funding a library overseas. How would you view that considering there’s so much to be done in India itself?
Giving and philanthropy is very personal. You will find that many individuals want to give back to those institutions that really helped shape their own opportunities. I have personally given money to Stanford University. My wife and I have a Raikes Foundation. Its not our top priority but its something that we do. When we gave to Stanford we put particular emphasis on comparative studies on race and ethnicity as we believe that demographic shifts in society are very important when you want to develop a new generation of leaders who understand the value of diversity. So, there are ways to give back to your institution that can be a positive force in society. I would certainly encourage that.
What’s your assessment of the Foundation in India?
Our work on HIV prevention in India, Avahan, is highly regarded. Government officials from other countries come to learn about the work here. Last month there was an official visit from Kenya. There have been visits from Ivory Coast, South Africa and South East Asian countries. We are expanding our work in the area of family health. That will include maternal health, trying to reduce neo–natal mortality, trying to improve child health and nutrition. Those are high priority for us and we are beginning to do more work here, particularly in Bihar. Besides, we have done work on irrigation, little bit in the area of sanitation particularly in management of human waste. We are looking at urban poverty, how slums are organised. We are working on a number of areas. Our biggest programme is Avahan. We are scaling up on family health, we are doing a huge amount on Polio. We would like to see the Indian government broaden its focus on vaccine delivery. We will focus on agriculture development also.