Le Monde Philanthropy Event
October 24, 2016
Thank you. It’s great to be here this evening.
I’m an optimist about the power of philanthropy to create a better world. It is not a substitute for effective government. But philanthropy helps meet all kinds of needs in society. And it can play a special role in reducing inequity and human suffering.
People often ask what led to my decision to dedicate my life to helping create a better world. The truth is, I always expected that helping make the world a better place would be an important part of my life – because it was a big part of how I was raised.
Both my dad and my mom taught me a lot about philanthropy. In fact, I remember them going around the dinner table asking me and my two sisters how much of our allowance we would be giving to the Salvation Army at Christmas.
From an early age, they also showed me that philanthropy was about action, and getting involved. My dad did pro bono law work, campaigned for school levies, and volunteered for Planned Parenthood.
My mom was the first woman to lead United Way of America. And as a member of the University of Washington Board of Regents, she led the effort in the early 1980s to divest the school’s holdings in South Africa to protest apartheid.
And when Microsoft became successful, my mom was the first person to suggest that I start thinking about how to do something useful with all that money.
Community service was also an important part of my wife Melinda’s upbringing.
So we always knew that we would start a foundation. We just thought we would do it later, when our children were grown and we were retired.
But something changed when Melinda and I made our first trip to Africa in 1993. It was a vacation, and the landscape was beautiful. The people were friendly. But the deep poverty, which we were seeing for the first time, disturbed us.
It also energized us.
Obviously, we knew parts of Africa were very poor, but seeing it with our own eyes turned what had been an abstraction into an injustice we could not ignore. When we came home, we couldn’t forget about it, and we started thinking about how to take action sooner.
Melinda and I read a lot and we talked to a lot of people to understand why people get caught in a poverty trap. One of the things that became obvious pretty quickly was that it is impossible to break the cycle of poverty if people aren’t healthy.
We were shocked to learn that millions of children in poor countries were dying every year from preventable diseases, simply because they weren’t getting immunized with the vaccines that we’ve come to take for granted in well-off countries like the U.S. and France.
And millions more were dying every year from HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria – diseases especially prevalent in poor countries.
So we asked ourselves two questions. First, how can this be fixed? And second, what can we do to help?
One of the biggest problems, we realized, was that there was no market mechanism to get life-saving vaccines and drugs to children in poor countries. Developing countries couldn’t afford to pay for them. And pharmaceutical companies had no commercial incentive to invest in supplying medicines to the poorest parts of the world.
Other people were also talking about this problem of supply and demand – and the injustice of children in poor countries dying simply by happenstance of where they were born.
We thought that if we could help correct this market failure, the pipeline of life-saving medicines could begin flowing to the places with the greatest need.
But we also knew that we couldn’t do it alone. Our philanthropy could be a catalyst, bringing people together and taking risks where governments and businesses can’t. But the public and private sectors would have to be a big part of the solution.
One of the first things we did was provide the seed money that created a new kind of global partnership called Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
The basic theory of Gavi is simple, yet powerful: align the efforts, resources, and expertise of governments, the private sector, multilateral organizations, and civil society – so everyone is pulling from the same end of the rope.
More specifically, the aim of Gavi was to pool the demand for vaccines among dozens of the world’s poorest countries and align the financial resources of those countries with development assistance from donors like the U.S., France, and others.
This was a new way of focusing development aid on the most urgent global problems - and it has worked amazingly well.
By coordinating efforts and resources, Gavi has created the predictability and the volume that vaccine manufacturers need to offer their products at lower cost. Just last week, Gavi – working with UNICEF – secured the lowest-ever price for the five basic vaccines that every child needs.
Since it was created in 2000, Gavi has helped developing countries reached an additional 580 million children with lifesaving vaccines, averting more than 8 million deaths.
Developing countries still struggle to afford vaccines, and Gavi’s ability to continue reducing child mortality relies on its ability to mobilize and sustain predictable financial support from donors.
France has been a generous and consistent supporter of Gavi and we hope that continues.
I mentioned a few minutes ago that around the time our foundation was getting started, AIDs, tuberculosis, and malaria were also huge epidemics.
So, working with France, we and others created the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
At the time, 6 million people a year were dying from these diseases.
Like Gavi, the Global Fund is an innovative financing mechanism that aligns the demand of developing countries with the resources of governments and other donors like our foundation. By working together, the Global Fund has been able to reduce the cost of life-saving medicines by more than $600 million in just the last three years.
And that has enabled us to reach millions of people with antiretroviral therapy for HIV, treatments for tuberculosis, and insecticide-treated mosquito nets that protect families from malaria.
To date, these efforts have saved 20 million lives, thanks in no small part to France, which has been the largest European donor to the Global Fund since it was created.
Increasingly, we are applying some of these market-shaping lessons to other issues, such as contraceptive access. There is enormous unmet demand among women in many of the poorest countries, for modern contraceptive methods, particularly implants.
Here again, a big part of the problem was a broken system of supply and demand. But by guaranteeing a certain volume of sales of contraceptive implants to poorer countries, we have been able to help leading manufacturers cut prices by around half.
That’s half the battle. But we also have to ensure that women are getting the contraceptives they want and the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them. This is critical to reducing the high rates of maternal and child mortality and creating an environment where women and their children can prosper.
One of the most successful such efforts is the Ouagadougou Partnership. France is a core partner in this effort, which was created a few years ago to ensure that women in Francophone West Africa have access to modern contraceptives.
Already, the partnership has reached a million women – and it plans to reach another 2 million by 2020.
The success of these kinds of collaborative efforts is what makes me optimistic about the future. They prove that when governments, business, civil society and philanthropists come together around a common goal, the results can be amazing.
This is why I am excited that our foundation signed a Memorandum of Understanding today with the French aid agency, AFD. Mr. Rioux, who runs AFD, is here today.
Our agreement creates a framework for cooperation between the AFD and our foundation.
The AFD has extraordinary expertise and a deep knowledge of the countries where it works. And it has a proven track record in delivering outstanding results.
We are looking forward to this new partnership and the impact it will have improving health, sanitation, food security and nutrition in West Africa and the Sahel.
By working together, we can help the most vulnerable people lift themselves out of poverty. This is not only the right thing to do from a humanitarian perspective.
It is also a smart thing to do.
We live in an interconnected world where the effects of inequality, poverty, and disease in one part of the world ripples in another.
Especially in times of economic insecurity and uncertainty, it is easy to feel the pull toward isolation and intolerance.
I hope everyone will agree that continuing to extend a compassionate hand makes the world a healthier and safer place for people everywhere . . . and that helping the world’s poor is something that transcends political ideology.
Melinda and I often say that the work we’re doing now is the most fulfilling thing we’ve ever done. Giving back taps into the best part of our selves. It helps us touch our humanity. And it enables us to empathize with people whose needs are far greater than our own.