Give for greatness

     Print Edition: Dec 23, 2012

How do you feel when you pick up a newspaper, turn on the radio or watch TV and are exposed to stories of children dying of malnutrition or starvation? Even though child mortality has fallen by 35 per cent around the world, too many children still die needlessly; most, from causes that are both treatable and preventable. In 2010, 7.6 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday. It is alarming statistics such as these that urged me to pursue philanthropic work.

My journey in philanthropy began in Nebraska. My parents were great role models for service to others and taught me how one small act of kindness has the potential to carry a tremendous multiplying effect.

Jeff Raikes, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Jeff Raikes, CEO, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
A concept that appeals to me the most as I have undertaken this journey, is ''smart philanthropy". So what makes smart philanthropy so effective? My experience has taught me that smart philanthropy can be divided into three distinct practices-First, an ambition to change the world and courage to accept responsibility for achieving the results you seek.

Second, engaging others in a compelling campaign while empowering stakeholders and creating the conditions for collaboration and innovation. Lastly, using all tools that are available to create change, including unconventional ones from outside the nonprofit sector and then creating actionable knowledge to improve one's own effectiveness and to the ability to influence the behaviour of others.

One of the most important determinants in the success of smart philanthropy is access to knowledge-of where to give and how to give. Our community should be thinking hard about how we share with others what we are doing and learning. We are in an independent sector but we don't need to act and learn independently. How can we strengthen our sector and our impact together? I don't have answer to these questions but I do have some solutions, which I call my "three T's": technology, transparency, and teamwork.

As a former "software guy" you may not be surprised about my love for technology. IT and the power of social media are making the capture and sharing of data information and knowledge easier, faster, and cheaper.

Technology alone won't enable sharing knowledge sharing. As philanthropists we need to become more comfortable with transparency by providing more information about our activities. This way, philanthropists make it easier for others to learn from and join our effort. Teamwork is really about engagement.

We can't rely only on technology or transparency. We need to invite feedback. We need to engage with grantees and partners. They are the first to know if we have lost our way or found a promising path forward.

If you look around, a growing number of people have amassed tremendous wealth and are exploring the possibilities of taking their own philanthropic journey. So you have an incredible opportunity as a philanthropist to redistribute your wealth to people in this world that need it the most. For 27 years I pursued a dream largely focused on creating Microsoft Office. The one thing I learned at Microsoft is if you really want to make an impact, you have to set big aspirations. At Microsoft we had the dream of a computer on every desk and in every home.

At the Gates Foundation too we dream big. Our work is guided by a simple belief that all lives have equal value. Whether a child is born in Mumbai or far-flung districts of Bihar shouldn't determine whether they have access to health, education, and opportunity.

We believe in the power of innovation to improve lives. We make innovative investments and once we prove their success, impact and potential, we encourage governments to scale up the model. That's why over the last few years in India we've invested in one of the most ambitious integrated health delivery initiatives in Bihar.

Our partnership, Ananya, comprises 10 organisations implementing projects with funding from us totalling approximately $122 mn over five years. Ananya means "boundless" and represents the importance and potential of every mother and child in Bihar.

The Ananya partners are testing innovative supply-side solutions, using the public and private sectors, to improve the health and nutrition of pregnant women and infants. We also work to improve detection, diagnosis and treatment of childhood pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and kala-azar.

On the demand side, we use media to shape social norms and practices around health. We also equip community groups to demand better services. In all, the foundation and its partners have developed more than 100 new innovations that are available today or scheduled to be introduced by the end of the decade. We took the risk of investing in an area that was previously not considered. Once it is proven to work, we hand it to the government.

One such project is Avahan, our HIVE/AIDS project with the Indian government's National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). What excites me most today, is that we're not standing still. We, as smart philanthropists, are getting better at what we do. But we need to accelerate our progress by embracing technology, encouraging transparency and engaging grantees, partners, and critics. My experience has been a journey; perhaps yours will be too. It's about discovering new ideas, new people, and new places. It's about taking risks. We won't always succeed, but we will always learn.

Ultimately, philanthropy is about discovering yourself.

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