Bill and Melinda Gates announced Monday that Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes will take the helm of their $37 billion foundation — the world's largest such philanthropy — in September.
A 27-year veteran of Microsoft, Raikes will take over as chief executive of the foundation on Sept. 2, replacing Patty Stonesifer, who announced her resignation in January.
From their home in Medina, Wash., the Gateses tell Michele Norris in an exclusive interview that they picked Raikes because he shares their passion to try to help minimize poverty in the developing world and the U.S.
The head of Microsoft's business division, Raikes will now shift gears and start giving away massive amounts of the Microsoft fortune. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation distributes more than $3 billion in grants each year. NPR has received grants from the foundation.
Raikes announced his resignation from Microsoft in January. Stephen Elop, former chief operating officer at Juniper Networks, will replace Raikes at the software giant. As of July, Bill Gates himself will transition from a day-to-day role with Microsoft — though he'll remain its chairman — to focus more on the foundation's work.
A Broad Philanthropic Agenda
The Gateses have known Raikes and his wife, Tricia, for the past two decades, and the two couples have traveled extensively together. Bill and Melinda Gates say they were particularly impressed when Raikes chaired the United Way's 2006-2007 fundraising drive in King County, Wash. At the time, he also worked full time for Microsoft.
As part of his work with United Way, Raikes "went out at night on the homeless count to see what it means to sleep at 3 a.m. on the streets of Seattle," says Melinda Gates, who co-chairs the Gates Foundation with her husband. She says that got Raikes thinking about big-picture efforts to tackle homelessness.
That broad perspective has also characterized the Gates Foundation's approach to poverty and global health. The foundation has been the object of awe, envy and, at times, anger because of its big budget and broad agenda — which includes improving education, alleviating poverty and combating diseases such as malaria and HIV.
"We're focused on the diseases that are ignored, the diseases of the poor," says Bill Gates. "The market is not giving a signal that this work should be done. And so in the rich world, problems like baldness get funded with billions, whereas the things that really kill lots of people, like malaria and TB, used to get basically nothing. Those are what we're going after in health."
He adds, "Once you improve health in a country, it really changes everything, because parents don't need to have as many children to be sure that someone will support them in their old age. Population growth goes down, you can feed, you can educate, you can provide jobs. And the virtuous cycle that we've seen, fortunately, in most places in the world can be extended to these other countries."
Critics say the Gates Foundation tries to use its deep pockets to influence global health policy, while sometimes failing to consult people with long-term experience in areas such as malaria and tuberculosis control or HIV prevention. Bill Gates says the foundation has supported the World Health Organization with more than $1 billion in grants, and he stresses that WHO remains the policy-making organization.
"They do not have in their budget money for drug research, so the really sad thing is that hardly anything was being spent on malaria research, hardly anything was being spent on TB research or an AIDS vaccine," Bill Gates says. That created an opening for the foundation "to really highlight that more needs to be spent on these things" and to work "together with the organizations that were already there."
The foundation has responded to criticisms by seeking feedback from people intimately involved with the governments it works with. It has set up advisory panels for issues regarding the U.S., global development and global health.
"Strong outside voices are people we're listening to," Melinda Gates says. "They're helping us gather feedback from grantees on the ground. We want good criticism and good feedback, so we're doing better as an organization. We take that very, very seriously."