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Themes in Philanthropy – Saranac Partners event

In January, Saranac Partners was delighted to host a breakfast roundtable discussion with Joe Cerrell, Managing Director for Global Policy and Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). During this wide-ranging conversation, Joe explained the Foundation’s work and principles, the lessons learned over the years and the key themes dominating philanthropy. The topics discussed included:

The Foundation’s approach to philanthropy

  • The BMGF looks to identify two criteria when deciding to pursue philanthropic endeavours: neglect and the potential for cost-effective impact.
  • Globally, the two principal focuses are healthcare and agriculture in the developing world; in the US, it is education.
  • In improving healthcare in the developing world, perhaps the best-known of the BMGF’s causes, they are seeking to address the ‘90/10’ gap: that 90% of resources are spent on 10% of illnesses, meaning that fighting diseases that affect millions, such as tuberculosis and malaria, do not receive adequate funding.

How to make the best use of philanthropic resources

  • One advantage that philanthropy has is that it is not bound to the same level of short-term scrutiny as other institutions, and can therefore make ‘higher risk, higher reward’ investments that can make a significant long-term difference.
  • A vital role of philanthropic resources is advocacy: it is important to influence governments and other institutions into committing to philanthropic causes. This has increasingly become a key part of the BMGF’s work.
  • Programme-related investments are likewise an increasingly important area – working with the private sector to develop products. This type of strategic investment may take the form of a volume guarantee; for example, the BMGF can guarantee bulk product purchases, such as contraception, encouraging a private sector company to work with them and ultimately achieve better value.

Lessons learned

  • To maximise impact, philanthropic efforts must go beyond simply making ‘upstream’ investments, focusing entirely on technological improvements.
  • Instead, solutions must be devised with delivery firmly in mind – the regulatory context in each country that a new product, for example, might be delivered, should be a key consideration.