Odds are, you and Bill Gates don’t have the same idea of what constitutes charity. No, not just in terms of the obvious discrepancy in your respective means. But in how you define charity. To most of us, it’s about the simple act of giving. Gates, however, believes in philanthrocapitalism. Not so much giving but rather investing in businesses that can have a social impact. Hopefully, a sustainable one. And as a self-described impatient optimist, he wants this change fast.
Little wonder then that the charitable foundation he started along with his wife—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)—seeks to create massive impact in the shortest possible time. And with $47.9 billion in assets and about $5 billion annual spending across the developed and developing world, the Foundation’s ability to effect change is immense.
In India, where BMGF has focused the vast majority of its efforts on access to immunisation against preventable disease, its fingerprints are there for all to see. On one side, it has given grants to multiple vaccine makers, allowing them to lower their development costs and even pouring in tens of millions of dollars to fund clinical trials.
BMGF’s portfolio of grantees in India includes most vaccine makers, think tanks like Public Health Foundation of India, industry bodies like FICCI, large NGOs including CARE India and PATH, among several others. It also has another strategic investment fund that offers equity investment, debt and volume guarantees. All told, it has over 60 companies and not-for-profits combined in its strategic investment portfolio.
And even as it enables production, it works to ensure a market for these vaccines. Through Gavi (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), BMGF helps the government fund vaccine purchases for its immunisation programme.
It builds supply on one side and ensures demand on the other. A self-sustaining system. One executive with an Indian vaccine maker spoke glowingly of the difference BMGF can make with its investment. “You get a tag of reputation, higher brand value and an image as a credible supplier in the market. In addition, there’s the high demand created by Gavi,” he says.
The system seems flawless. But BMGF is currently fighting against the odds to ensure it keeps chugging along once BMGF inevitably removes itself from the equation.
To do this, the Foundation has been on a charm offensive aimed at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Just last month, Modi was felicitated by BMGF, with the organisation giving him an award for his campaign to end open defecation in the country. Incidentally, the Foundation passed on giving Modi the same award two years ago, as per former BMGF executives, allegedly on account of his questionable human rights record.