Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

American private foundation founded by Bill and Melinda Gates


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is an American private foundation founded by Microsoft’s founder Bill and philanthropist and former general manager at Microsoft Melinda Gates.

Funded in 2000, the organisation is based in Seattle, Washington and is reported to be the largest private foundation in the world, holding $50.7 billion in assets. Among their objectives, their primary goals are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty in the world, and, specifically in the U.S., to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. The foundation is controlled by its three trustees: Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett. Other principal officers include Co-Chair William H. Gates, Sr. and Chief Executive Officer Susan Desmond-Hellmann.

The scale of the foundation and the way it seeks to apply business techniques to giving makes it one of the leaders in venture philanthropy, though the foundation itself notes that the philanthropic role has limitations. In 2007, its founders were ranked as the second most generous philanthropists in the US, with Warren Buffett, one of the trustees, ranking the first. Since its founding, the foundation has endowed and supported a broad range of social, health, and education developments including the establishment of the Gates Cambridge.


Bill & Melinda Gates

In 1994, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and one of the richest persons in the world formed the William H. Gates Foundation. During the foundation’s following years, funding grew to $2 billion. On June 15, 2006, Gates announced his plans to transition out of a day-to-day role with Microsoft, effective July 31, 2008, to allow him to devote more time to working with the foundation.

On June 25, 2006, Warren Buffett (then the world’s richest person, estimated worth of $62 billion as of April 16, 2008) pledged to give the foundation approximately 10 million Berkshire Hathaway Class B shares spread over multiple years through annual contributions, with the first year’s donation of 500,000 shares being worth approximately $1.5 billion.

Buffett set conditions so that these contributions do not simply increase the foundation’s endowment, but effectively work as a matching contribution, doubling the foundation’s annual giving. Bloomberg News noted, “Buffett’s gift came with three conditions for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Bill or Melinda Gates must be alive and active in its administration; it must continue to qualify as a charity; and each year it must give away an amount equal to the previous year’s Berkshire gift, plus an additional amount equal to 5 percent of net assets. Buffett gave the foundation two years to abide by the third requirement.”

The Gates Foundation received 5% (500,000) of the shares in July 2006 and will receive 5% of the remaining earmarked shares in the July of each following year (475,000 in 2007, 451,250 in 2008). In July 2018, Buffet announced another donation of his company’s Class B stock, this time worth $2 billion, to the Gates Foundation.

Among their many activities, which includes events and funding projects aligned to their goals all over the world, in 2010, the foundation’s founders started the Commission on Education of Health Professionals for the 21st Century, entitled “Transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world.”

A 2011 survey of grantees found that many believed the foundation did not make its goals and strategies clear and sometimes did not understand those of the grantees; that the foundation’s decision- and grantmaking procedures were too opaque; and that its communications could be more consistent and responsive. The foundation’s response was to improve the clarity of its explanations, make “orientation calls” to grantees upon awarding grants, tell grantees who their foundation contact is, give timely feedback when they receive a grantee report, and establish a way for grantees to provide anonymous or attributed feedback to the foundation. The foundation also launched a podcast series.

In 2013, Hillary Clinton launched a partnership between the foundation and the Clinton Foundation to gather and study data on the progress of women and girls around the world since the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference On Women in Beijing. This is called “No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project.”

The Five Program Areas

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation work with partners worldwide to tackle critical problems in five program areas. Their Global Health Division aims to reduce inequities in health by developing new tools and strategies to reduce the burden of infectious disease and the leading causes of child mortality in developing countries. Their Global Development Division focuses on improving the delivery of high-impact health products and services to the world’s poorest communities and helps countries expand access to health coverage. Their Global Growth & Opportunity division focuses on creating and scaling market-based innovations to stimulate inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

In parallel, the Foundation also focuses on the United States with a United States Division, which works to improve U.S. high school and postsecondary education, and support vulnerable children and families in Washington State.  The fifth pillar of the foundation is a Global Policy & Advocacy Division, which seeks to build strategic relationships and promote policies that will help advance their work. Their approach is to grantmaking in all five areas to emphasize collaboration, innovation, risk-taking, and, most importantly, results.

The Foundation’s HQ in Seattle, Washington, US

To maintain its status as a charitable foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation must donate funds equal to at least 5 percent of its assets each year.

Global Health Division

Their Global Health Division aims to harness advances in science and technology to save lives in developing countries. The foundation work with partners to deliver proven tools—including vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics—as well as discover pathbreaking new solutions that are affordable and reliable. Equally important is innovation in how they bring health interventions to those who need them most. For that, they invest heavily in vaccine to prevent infectious diseases and support the development of integrated health solutions for family planning, nutrition, and maternal and child health. Since 2011, the president of the Global Health Program is Trevor Mundel.

Some of the Global Health Division’s significant grants include:

  • The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: The foundation has donated more than $6.6 billion for global health programs, including over $1.3 billion donated as of 2012 on malaria alone, greatly increasing the dollars spent per year on malaria research
  • Polio eradication: In 2006, the foundation provided $86 million toward efforts attempting to eradicate poliomyelitis (polio).
  • The GAVI Alliance: The foundation gave the GAVI Alliance (formerly the “Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization”) a donation of $750 million on January 25, 2005.
  • Children’s Vaccine Program: The Children’s Vaccine Program, run by the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), received a donation of $27 million to help vaccinate against Japanese encephalitis on December 9, 2003.
  • University of Washington Department of Global Health: The foundation provided approximately $30 million for the foundation of the new Department of Global Health at the University of Washington in Seattle, US. The donation promoted three of the foundation’s target areas: education, Pacific Northwest and global health.
  • HIV Research: The foundation donated a total of $287 million to various HIV/AIDS researchers. The money was split between 16 different research teams across the world, on the condition that the findings are shared amongst the teams.
  • Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation: The foundation gave the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation more than $280 million to develop and license an improved vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) for use in high-burden countries (HBCs).
  • Cheaper high-tech tuberculosis (TB) test: In August 2012, the foundation, in partnership with PEPFAR (United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and UNITAID (an international drug purchasing facility hosted by WHO), announced they had finalized an agreement to reduce the cost of a commercial TB test (Cepheid’s Xpert MTB/RIF run on the GeneXpert platform), from $16.86 to $9.98.>
  • Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI): A global group tasked with more quickly developing vaccines against infectious disease threats worldwide was launched on 8 January 2017 by a coalition of governments and nonprofit groups including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations was funded with an initial investment of $460 million from Germany, Japan, Norway, the Wellcome Trust and the Gates foundation.

Global Development Division

The Global Development Division aims to identify and fund the delivery of high-impact solutions that can reduce health inequities and give everyone the opportunity to healthy, productive lives. The foundation work closely with their partners to support innovative approaches and expand existing ones so they reach the people who are most in need. Christopher Elias leads the foundation’s efforts to combat extreme poverty through grants as president of the Global Development Division.

The Global Development Division aims to identify and fund the delivery of high-impact solutions that can reduce health inequities and give everyone the opportunity to healthy, productive lives

In this context, in October 2000, William Gates established the Gates Cambridge Scholarships which allow students and scholars from the U.S. and around the world to study at Cambridge University, one of the top universities in the world. The Gates Cambridge Scholarship has often been compared to the Rhodes Scholarship, given its similarly international scope and substantial endowment. In 2000, the Gates Foundation endowed the scholarship trust with $210 million to help outstanding graduate students outside of the United Kingdom study at the University of Cambridge. The Gates Foundation has continued to contribute funds to expand the scholarship, making it one of the largest and best endowed scholarships in the world.

Other successful program was that of the “Project Lantern” in the Philippines city of Cebu to fight sex trafficking. In 2010, the results of the project were published, in which the IJM stated that Project Lantern had led to “an increase in law enforcement activity in sex trafficking cases, an increase in commitment to resolving sex trafficking cases among law enforcement officers trained through the project, and an increase in services – like shelter, counseling and career training – provided to trafficking survivors”.

Global Growth And Opportunity Division

Nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide live on less than US$1.90 a day, and more than 1 billion suffer from chronic hunger. Global Growth and Opportunity focuses on the areas of Agricultural Development; Gender Equality; Financial Services for the Poor; and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. We believe that people are poor because markets don’t work for them, and we promote innovative products and policies that can break down barriers to economic opportunity, help people lift themselves out of poverty, and deliver sustainable and inclusive growth that benefits everyone. We invest in data and measurement to understand the underlying causes of poverty and develop evidence-based solutions that can be delivered at scale by our partners.

Some of the Global Growth and Opportunity Division’s significant grants include:

Financial Inclusion

  • Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI): A $35 million grant for the AFI supports a coalition of countries from the developing world to create savings accounts, insurance, and other financial services that are made available to people living on less than $2 per day.
  • Financial Access Initiative: A $5 million grant allows Financial Access Initiative to conduct field research and answer important questions about microfinance and financial access in impoverished countries around the world.


  • International Rice Research Institute: Between November 2007 and October 2010, the Gates Foundation offered $19.9 million to the International Rice Research Institute. The goal of the aid was to support the increasing world demand for rice. The Gates Foundation claims: “To keep up with worldwide demand, the production of rice will have to increase by about 70 percent in the next two decades.” The International Rice Research Institute has developed Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice variant used to combat Vitamin A deficiency.
  • Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA): The Gates Foundation has partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to enhance agricultural science and small-farm productivity in Africa, building on the Green Revolution that the Rockefeller Foundation spurred in the 1940s and 1960s. The Gates Foundation has made an initial $100 million investment in this effort, to which the Rockefeller Foundation has contributed $50 million.

U.S. Program

In the United States, the foundation’s primary focus is on ensuring that all students graduate from high school prepared for college and have an opportunity to earn a postsecondary degree with labor-market value. Their approach is to play a catalytic role—to support the development of innovative solutions in education that are unlikely to be generated by institutions working alone and that can trigger change on a broader scale.They also work to address issues of social inequity and poverty in Washington State, where the Gates family has lived for generations and the foundation makes its permanent home.

A key aspect of the Gates Foundation’s U.S. efforts involves an overhaul of the country’s education policies at both the K-12 and college levels, including support for teacher evaluations and charter schools and opposition to seniority-based layoffs and other aspects of the education system that are typically backed by teachers’ unions. It spent $373 million on education in 2009. It has also donated to the two largest national teachers’ unions. The foundation was the biggest early backer of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In October 2017 it was announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would spend more than $1.7 billion over five years to pay for new initiatives in public education.

One of the foundation’s goals is to lower poverty by increasing the number of college graduates in the United States, and the organization has funded “Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery” grants to think tanks and advocacy organizations to produce white papers on ideas for changing the current system of federal financial aid for college students, with a goal of increasing graduation rates. One of the ways the foundation has sought to increase the number of college graduates is to get them through college faster, but that idea has received some pushback from organizations of universities and colleges.

As part of its education-related initiatives, the foundation has funded journalists, think tanks, lobbying organizations and governments. Millions of dollars of grants to news organizations have funded reporting on education and higher education, including more than $1.4 million to the Education Writers Association to fund training for journalists who cover education.

Global Policy & Advocacy Division

Because their resources alone are not enough to advance the causes the foundation is involved with, they engage in advocacy efforts to promote public policies that advance their work, build strategic alliances with governments and the public and private sectors, and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues. That is why their Global Policy & Advocacy Program has teams dedicated to advocacy, policy analysis, media and communications, government relations, as well as strengthening philanthropic partnerships and the charitable sector in the United States and overseas. They work in close collaboration with all their offices in the United States, Europe, China, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa.

Some of the projects are:

  • Development Policy and Finance: The foundation aim to accelerate progress in advancing human development and alleviating extreme poverty by enabling evidence-based public policymaking at the global and national levels—through research, ideas, and innovations.
  • Tobacco Control: They support efforts to reduce tobacco-related death and disease in low- and middle-income countries by preventing the initiation of new smokers, decreasing overall tobacco use, and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Regional Offices: Their regional offices help maintain and further a global presence in our advocacy and strategy work.