What We Do

Washington State

Strategy Overview


A family newly housed at Croft Place in West Seattle.

our goal:

Create opportunities for all children in Washington state—regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, or gender—to reach their full potential.

The Challenge

At A Glance

Our Washington State strategy supports all students where they live, learn and play—at home, at school, and in their neighborhoods.

We helped build nearly 1,500 units of transitional housing, and continue to support new and cost-effective ways to address and prevent homelessness.

We’ve been working to expand access to high-quality pre-K for all 3- and 4-year-olds since 2005.

In 2010, when we started investing in the low-income Road Map Region of South King County, only 51% of eligible 8th graders were signed up for the College Bound Scholarship; now that number is 82%.

Our home state work is directed by David Bley and is part of the foundation’s United States Division.

To learn more about our approach and strategy:

Washingtonians value equal opportunity, responsibility, and innovation. We believe in hard work, and in education as a way out of poverty. But despite these ideals, the gap between rich and poor is increasing.

Children born into poverty face significant barriers to achieving their dreams. Students who experience the trauma of poverty or biases related to immigration, race, and gender have a harder time in school. And the academic achievement gaps show up as early as kindergarten.

These issues don’t just affect our children, they hurt our economy and our quality of life.

If we want to keep growing our economy and sustaining vibrant, healthy communities, then we must prepare our students with better educational opportunities from preschool through postsecondary.

The Opportunity

The industries that drive Washington’s economy—technology, science, health, and international trade—require a well-educated workforce. To help students succeed later in life, we must start early, with better opportunities, in school and out of school, from the very beginning.

When we all work together in a nurturing and stable environment that supports the whole child—addressing their social, emotional, academic, and development needs from the very beginning—it creates a cycle of prosperity that will benefit us all.

Our Strategy

Local Roots, Global Impact

In addition to our efforts to help students reach their full potential, we also invest in the local global health and development sector, and in building the strength and collaboration of the local non-profit sector. Our Seattle-based employees are engaged members of our hometown, and participate as citizens, parents, and volunteers. In total, the foundation adds $1.5 billion to the local economy every year.

The work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spans the globe, but we have a deep commitment to improving the lives of families and children in Washington, where the Gates family has lived for generations.

We believe that all children deserve a chance to reach their full potential, regardless of their race, ethnicity, income, or gender. Educational attainment—a college degree or vocational or technical credential—is still the best sign that individuals are on the path to fulfilling their purpose and potential. That’s why we invest in partners working to improve outcomes for students here in Washington.

We support children in every part of their lives:

Home: Every child deserves a safe and stable place to call home. Affordable housing, flexible social services, and programs that address student and family homelessness, provide the security that encourages achievement.

Community: Every relationship is an opportunity. The people and resources in our vibrant neighborhoods—including after-school and summer programs; mentors; and community organizations like churches, cultural networks, and nonprofits—can all work together to nurture every child’s unique abilities.

School: Every classroom can embrace the whole child. Teachers and staff with the tools to promote social, emotional, and academic skills make schools welcoming and nurturing. High-quality pre-K programs, excellent public school options, and high expectations guide students toward meeting milestones.

Areas of Focus

We invest in partners who are making a difference for all students, and who are working to reduce inequity and expand opportunity. We do this through five areas of focus:

Early Learning

Children playing at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Home Center.

High-quality pre-K advances a skilled workforce, an engaged community, and a thriving economy. It takes professional educators, professionally compensated, to connect with children, encourage curiosity, promote critical thinking, and build on children’s natural play with engaging learning activities. Quality pre-K helps children process and understand emotions, resolve conflict, and solve problems on their own. These critical skills set them up for success in kindergarten and beyond.


Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and our investments support children through their entire journey.

Our local work connects to the foundation’s national K-12 Education and Postsecondary Success strategies by focusing on both in-school and out-of-school opportunities that advance a child’s social, emotional, and academic success, from pre-K through college.

Road Map Project

Our investments in the Road Map Region of South Seattle and South King County started in 2010 with a simple idea: No single program, organization, or institution can bring about large-scale social change on its own. To get better results for students, we invest in partners who are coordinating activities across the many organizations that serve children. We engage parents and communities, and use data to encourage continuous improvement, building a better system for all our kids.

Family Homelessness

A family that found stable housing through the Washington Families Fund, a public-private partnership founded in 2004.

Addressing family homelessness was one of the first challenges we took on. Between 2000 and 2008, our Sound Families Initiative helped build more than 1,450 transitional homes for families with children in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

Then, in the same three counties, we worked with Building Changes to improve the crisis response system with an approach that recognizes families’ innate strengths, fosters collaboration, streamlines systems, and uses resources more efficiently.

We follow three proven principles to guide our work:

Prevention and diversion, including short-term, flexible assistance tailored to each family’s needs, such as landlord mediation; help with overdue rent and utility bills; and emergency childcare or transportation.

Coordinated entry, which allows families to make just one phone call to access housing and support services.

Rapid re-housing to place families in permanent housing as soon as possible—reducing higher costs of transitional shelter, and leveraging stability to address other issues like employment.

Strengthening Communities

We believe that every community has the ability to lead on solutions to its most pressing challenges. We work together with other local philanthropists and community foundations to actively support our non-profit ecosystem in a way that values leadership, equity, innovation, and the drive to tackle big problems, so that solutions are developed by the community and for the community.


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