Ray Murphy Lecture
June 5, 2012
Thank you, John, for that kind introduction.
It’s a great honor to be in Belfast this evening to deliver this year’s Ray Murphy Lecture.
I am very grateful to Philanthropy Ireland for the invitation to share in this occasion celebrating the life of an extraordinary leader in philanthropy.
Regrettably, I never had the privilege of meeting Ray Murphy. And my regret deepens every time I hear more about him: His generous spirit. His great sense of humor. His unbounded optimism.
One thing I’ve already learned this evening is that while Ray Murphy’s career in philanthropy was cut far too short, he left behind a legion of friends and admirers.
Whenever I meet someone who had been lucky enough to know him, I’ve been struck by the strong reactions his name elicits. Both broad smiles from those who recall his warmth and legendary charm, and tear-stained eyes at the great loss of an inspirational leader and friend.
We can all hope to be remembered so fondly.
By gathering together this evening, however, we are doing more than honoring Ray Murphy’s memory. We are helping to further his vision of building a more connected, compassionate world.
Ray Murphy dedicated his life to the traditional spirit of the word, “philanthropy,” meaning the love of humanity. He knew that great philanthropy is not about writing a check. It’s about giving your time, your energy, and your talents to create the kind of world you want to live in.
Many of you are familiar with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and when I’m asked to speak, it’s often to share stories about my work there. And I will share some this evening.
But when John Healy invited me to speak with you tonight, he surprised me with one request. He asked me to talk about my work at our family philanthropy, the Raikes Foundation.
It’s not a request I’ve ever gotten before, so I’m quite grateful to share the story of how it got started and the work we do. And I’m pleased to be joined here this evening by its co-founder, and my wife, Tricia Raikes.
In sharing these stories, I thought I would also make some observations – humble recommendations really – about the philanthropic community and charitable sector to which I and so many in this room now devote our lives.
How I Started My Journey in Philanthropy
My own journey in philanthropy began in Nebraska on the Great Plains of America’s Midwest.
My family has farmed there since 1854. I wasn’t there the whole time. But my years in Nebraska taught me that work on a farm is more than a job, it’s a passion. Working with the livestock and in the fields were great inspirations for me.
At age 7, not long after I learned how to ride a bike, I learned how to drive a tractor.
To this day I remain a farm boy at heart.
My parents were great role models for service to others. Let me share an example.
Winters on the plains of the Midwest can be harsh. When I was about 10 years old there was a terrible snowstorm, with large drifts blocking the roads. The temperature had fallen to more than 20 below (Celsius).
That afternoon, there was a knock at the door.
Standing outside was a family whose car had spun into a snowdrift and gotten stuck. They asked for help. My father was quick to volunteer – and even quicker to volunteer me – to get the tractor and help pull them out.
The family was thankful and asked to pay. But my father refused any money. Instead, he said his hope was that if any of his children were ever in need, someone would reach out to help them.
I can still visualize that powerful moment. It opened up for me the possibilities of giving. It also taught me how one small act of kindness has the potential to carry a tremendous multiplying effect.
At the time, I never imagined I would end up in a career in philanthropy. I believed my main calling was in agriculture. And when I left my small town for college, my dream job was to go and work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But along the way, I bought an Apple computer, taught myself how to program, and fell in love with software. In my early 20s, I started working at Microsoft.
One thing I learned at Microsoft is that if you really want to make an impact on the world you have to set big aspirations. At Microsoft we had the dream of a computer on every desk and in every home and that was a very motivating vision for us.
For 27 years I pursued that dream, largely focused on creating Microsoft Office and later leading the global sales force and then the business division.
As my Microsoft career moved forward, so did my interest in philanthropy. Tricia, who was also a Microsoft employee, and I participated in the Microsoft United Way campaign. At the urging of a certain Mary Gates’ – Bill’s mother – Tricia helped start a local Boys and Girls Club. Together we co-chaired the largest United Way campaign in history, delving into local issues such as homelessness.
I began dreaming of a second career, and that opportunity came in 2008, when my boss at Microsoft and his wife, Melinda, invited me to become the CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Like Microsoft, the Gates Foundation is a place where we also dream big. Our work is guided by a simple belief that all lives have equal value. We believe that whether a child is born in Brazzaville or Belfast shouldn’t determine whether they will have access to health, education, and opportunity.
The Story of the Raikes Family Foundation
The mission of Tricia’s and my family foundation was sparked more than 10 years ago by a young girl.
Middle school often felt like an exercise in survival for her. There were those days when she was bullied and excluded. She couldn’t figure out how to fit in. Those signals made her feel there was something wrong with her. It had an impact on her self-esteem.
This rolled over to her sense of her own intellectual capacity, her academic success. It was hard for her to see the extraordinary gifts she had to give to the world.
She went on to high school, a healthier environment, where she found her voice and tapped into her academic potential and passion for helping others.
That young girl – now a young woman -- is our oldest daughter, Michaela.
She is 25. She has a master’s degree from Stanford University and is now a high school history teacher who is positively impacting the lives of the kids in her classroom. And she’s here with us tonight.
Still, after all of those years, the painful memories of her middle school years remain.
Michaela’s challenge has been a source of inspiration for Tricia and me in guiding the Raikes Foundation, where we are working to understand those middle school years and find ways to empower adolescents to get on the right trajectory at a critical time of development. But we didn’t have such a clear focus at the start.
At first, Tricia and I gravitated to safer – some might say “more traditional” philanthropy. We gave to my alma mater, Stanford University. We made donations to my home state university, the University of Nebraska. We learned that you can always find good things to do. But to spark real change, and create impact in the world, we knew we needed to sharpen our focus.
Michaela’s experiences made us want to get serious and smarter about how to help youth.
We learned that in the United States and our local community, there were many organizations working on early childhood education, and many helping high school students. But very few focused on the middle years – ages 10 -14.
We discovered research that confirmed impressions formed from experiences with our own children: that the adolescent years are some of the most formative of a young person’s life. Those years are when our children can either lose their way, or grow more determined to finish high school, go on to college, and be ready for a successful transition to adulthood, and ultimately, life.
Finally, as we learned more about what would help adolescents, we grew interested in “agency” – the mindsets and learning strategies that kids need to succeed in life. We’re learning about how to develop programs and practices that will instill goal-setting, self-efficacy, growth mindsets, relationship building, persistence – skills too often overlooked by schools.
It’s exciting work but, as you can see, we didn’t have all the answers from the start. We still don’t. It’s been a journey that moves us closer and closer to our goal of giving our youth the best shot at a successful life.
Comparing and Contrasting the Raikes & Gates Foundation
At first glance, our work at the Raikes Foundation and my work at the Gates Foundation may appear to be quite different in size and scope.
The Gates Foundation recently topped more than 1,000 employees, and has offices in London, Beijing, Delhi, Washington, DC, as well as our global headquarters in Seattle.
By contrast, our foundation has four employees. We sublet office space from an attorney’s office in downtown Seattle.
The Gates Foundation is involved in more than 25 different initiatives from agriculture to vaccines to education. Our work takes us across the globe.
At the Raikes Foundation, most of our work focuses on youth in the Seattle region.
But there are lessons and knowledge from which each can draw upon the other. Lessons about focus, strategy, leverage, research. And lessons about children, communities, and change.
Many nights when I come home from work, I’ll sit down to dinner with Tricia and share stories about what I’ve learned at the Gates Foundation. Tricia, who oversees the day to day operations of the Raikes Foundation, will share her own stories about her meetings with grantees or the latest research on middle school mindsets. Together, we consider how what we are doing and learning – whether at the Gates Foundation or at the Raikes Foundation – might ultimately improve the impact of our work at the other organization.
When I take a step back and think about these conversations, I am reminded how fortunate – and perhaps even unique – the situation we find ourselves in.
By virtue of my position as the CEO of the Gates Foundation, Tricia and I - as individual philanthropists - have access to some of the world’s best knowledge and the newest and most promising practices in philanthropy.
And I trust, or certainly hope, that in our efforts to improve the lives of young people, we will have greater impact faster because of what I learn and have access to in my day job.
And so this brings me to what I especially wanted to share with you this evening.
One of the most important drivers of a foundation’s or philanthropist’s impact is access to knowledge – of where to give and how to give. Our sector, this community, all of us – should be thinking hard about how we share with others what we are doing and learning.
We are an independent sector but we don’t need to act and learn independently.
How can we learn one from another? How can we exchange our knowledge and ideas more freely? How can we strengthen our sector and our impact together?
I don’t have all the answers to these questions. But I do have some suggestions, which I’ll call my “three T’s”: technology, transparency, and teamwork.
As a former “software guy,” you may not be surprised that I want to talk technology.
Information technology and social media today are making the capture and sharing of data, information, and knowledge easier, faster, and cheaper. I’ll give you a couple of examples of things I’m excited by in our sector.
The Council on Foundations and TechSoup Global have developed an online repository called NGOSource for collecting basic information about individual charities around the world. I will not bore you with the details, but this knowledge sharing online could streamline an inefficient, redundant, and costly process called “equivalency determinations”, and help more philanthropic dollars go across borders to where they are most needed or most effective.
A couple of years ago, as part of a U.S. Department of Education effort to invest in innovative education programs, we developed – in collaboration with about 11 other foundations – the i3 Foundation Registry. The registry is an online proposal repository for applicants to this government grant funding pool to simultaneously share their plans with interested private foundations and individual philanthropists.
On this site, funders can share privately what proposals they are considering, which organizations and projects they “like,” and which ones they ultimately fund – all via Facebook or Twitter-like status updates. In a few short months, the participating funding community grew from the original 12 to 46, and the successful applicants to the U.S. Department of Education program raised their required private match dollars in record time.
When it comes to innovations in information technology, I have seen a common pattern:
- First, you digitize things that were previously done in analog or paper-based form.
- Then, you find new ways to add value to those things.
- But then you start to realize you can do things differently – you can transform the process.
I’m not sure where you all see our sector in its use of information technology – but I hope you will agree with me that we should be moving faster down the learning curve in this area. Projects like NGOsource and the i3 Foundation Registry might show us the way.
Technology alone won’t enable sharing knowledge in our sector. As philanthropists and foundation leaders, we may need to become much more comfortable with transparency, which is my second “T.”
The Internet constantly reminds us that knowledge is distributed. By simply getting into the habit of providing more information about our activities, foundations and philanthropists can make it easier for others to learn from and join our individual efforts.
At the Gates Foundation, we have begun to share lists of our grants not only in our required annual filings with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, but on our website and in the last year with the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).
Our employees, grantees, and other partners are regularly blogging on our Impatient Optimists blog with updates about our work – both the struggles and the successes. I’ve even started tweeting about the things I am reading and thinking about – and the people I am meeting.
Obviously, not all philanthropists need to tweet and not all foundations need a blog. Transparency is not free or without trade-offs. But on balance, I think we need to think as a sector about ways we can operate more transparently. When people understand where our funds are going and why, they are in a better position to partner with us, provide feedback, and learn from what works and what doesn’t.
I’ve mentioned technology and transparency so I’ll keep this alliterative streak alive with a third “T”, I’ll call it teamwork – but it is really about engagement.
At foundations and other philanthropies, it’s very easy to think that great ideas sit inside your offices; we have to really make sure that isn’t the viewpoint.
If we are truly to revolutionize the way the knowledge flows in our sector, we can’t simply rely upon technology or our own transparency. We need to invite feedback.
We need to engage grantees and partners. They will be among the first to know if we have lost our way or found a promising path forward.
That’s why at the Gates Foundation, I’ve placed such an emphasis on regularly communicating with our grantees. We survey them through the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s Grantee Perception Report and other means. I’ve also now made it an established practice for our strategy development processes now to include external advice and feedback.
We recently refreshed our agricultural development strategy, and throughout the process we consulted with literally hundreds of people, including our ultimate beneficiaries, small farmers in the developing world.
But my conception of teamwork is broader. We need to go beyond grantees and partners, to the critics and dissenters of our approaches.
In philanthropy, you don’t have sales results or stock prices to measure your success as you do in business.
You also don’t have competition.
We’re all here trying to change the world, right???
But I have learned that while maybe we can’t say there are competitors, we do have opponents. Those people and organizations who fight against the very change you believe is necessary to change the world. And they may have a very legitimate, different point of view about achieving the same goal – or they may believe it’s just not the right goal.
I think competition is good. I also think opponents are good. They help you make the right choices. They test your conviction. And so in this sense, they could be seen as part of the “team” – we must engage and that will drive us forward to greater impact.
Our experience with philanthropy – perhaps yours, too – has been a journey. An adventure, really. It’s about discovering new ideas, new people, and new places. It’s about taking risks. We won’t always succeed, but we must always learn. Ultimately, philanthropy is about discovering yourself.
If you look around the world today, there are a growing number of people who have amassed tremendous wealth who are exploring the possibilities of taking their own philanthropic journey.
So we have an incredible opportunity to encourage others to become philanthropists and continue with this important work.
What excites me most about philanthropy today is that we’re not standing still. We are finding new ways to pursue and measure our impact. We are sharing best practices. We are getting better at what we do.
But we need to accelerate this progress by embracing technology, encouraging greater transparency, and engaging our grantees, partners, and critics as a team.
Shortly after his death, Ray Murphy was awarded the 2007 Raymond Georis Prize for Innovative Philanthropy in Europe. During the prize ceremony, many friends and colleagues spoke about his contributions.
I’d like to close today with a quote from one of Ray’s colleagues who said that Ray’s biggest contribution was to remind us that our work is ultimately not about programmatic issues and projects, it is about people. Our beneficiaries and our partners.
“When we achieve impact,” he said, “we do so because people are ready to collaborate together, which is based on trust between individuals. Ray showed us the way."
Let us follow in his footsteps.