MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
The world's largest charitable foundation has found a new leader. Today, the Bill and Gates Foundation announced that Microsoft veteran Jeff Raikes will be the philanthropy's new CEO. Mr. and Mrs. Gates sat down with me today for an exclusive interview to talk about the new CEO and new challenges at their foundation. We'll hear from them in just a moment.
First, a bit about Jeff Raikes and the foundation. In early September, Raikes will replace Patty Stonesifer, who's retiring. Raikes was the head of Microsoft's business division. The Gates Foundation began in a small office over a pizza parlor back in 1994 and has since grown into a philanthropic giant with a $37 billion endowment. Today, given the recent challenges in getting international aid to Myanmar, I asked Bill Gates if the foundation has a role to play in disaster relief efforts there.
Mr. BILL GATES (Founder, Microsoft Corporation): Yes. Emergency disaster relief is one of the things we get involved in. We immediately gave three million to three of the organizations in Myanmar. But we also fund them in advance so that they have the supplies and trained personnel for disasters, no matter where they may show up in the future.
NORRIS: Bill Gates, has it been personally frustrating, though, watching what's going on in Myanmar? You have money to offer, perhaps assistance to give, but it's been so difficult to get any kind of aid or relief into the country.
Mr. GATES: Well, I'm not really an expert on what's going on there. It's certainly disappointing if the resources aren't immediately getting where they're needed.
NORRIS: I want to turn now to new leadership in the foundation. Could you tell us a little bit more about Jeff Raikes? I understand that he's someone that you've known for some time, and he's a native Nebraskan.
Ms. MELINDA GATES (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation): Well, we've known Jeff for over 20 years. And Bill and I have been fortunate enough to know Jeff and his wife Tricia and to travel quite extensively with them. And I think his leadership around the United Way in 2006, 2007 - he took on the Pacific Northwest campaign and ran one of the most successful campaigns United Way has ever had. But it was not just the leadership that he gave to that type of campaign, while he had a full job at Microsoft.
It was the fact that Jeff went out at night on the homeless count to see what it means to sleep, you know, at 3:00 a.m. on the streets of Seattle, and then start to think about the larger issue of how would an organization like United Way, what were they already doing to tackle that issue? But really it also comes to down to a shared passion for the same values that we have in this 500-person organization that we have - and are committed to these issues of the developing world and the United States, and that's what we saw in Jeff.
NORRIS: Some people are concerned that the Gates Foundation has so much money that they - have more money than, for instance, the World Health Organization, and that the foundation has become almost like an entity to itself that one is up to determining health policy and without always consulting all the people who have the best or the long-term experience in dealing with things like malaria or tuberculosis, or the control of HIV or HIV prevention. Is there a danger that the foundation can undermine the World Health Organization on the global level?
Mr. GATES: Well, the foundation has supported the WHO a lot. We've given literally over billion dollars in grants to them, and they are the policy-making organizations. So having them work well is very, very important. They do not have in their budget money for drug research. Hardly anything was being spent on malaria research, hardly anything was being sent on tuberculosis, and that's the unique role we've come in, is to really highlight that more needs to be spent on these things, and then working together with the organizations that were already there.
NORRIS: But Mr. Gates, the chief of the World Health Organization Malaria Program, for instance, has complained that the growing dominance of malaria research done by your organization lines up stifling a diversity of use among scientists.
Mr. GATES: Well, if you look at the variety of our grants, the scientists don't all agree. But the previous situation, where nothing was being spent, that wasn't driving much discussion either. It was a completely neglected situation.
Ms. GATES: Well, I think one of the things that we've done in the last year to have people realize how much we really are listening to outside voices, is we've set up these advisory panels for all three areas that we're in. Three of the people that sit on our global health advisory panel, one is a former health minister from Botswana, one was involved in the redevelopment, recreation in South Africa, and another was from the ministry in India.
So those strong outside voices are people that we are listening to. They're helping us gather real feedback from grantees on the ground. We want good criticism and good feedback so that we're doing better as an organization. We take that very, very seriously.
NORRIS: When did the two of you decide to create this kind of foundation? And why tackle so many things - tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS? Why not just focus on one thing. Bill?
Mr. GATES: We're focused on the diseases that were ignored, and these are the diseases of the poor. So that the market is not giving the 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. And once you improve health in a country, it really changes everything, because parents don't need to have this many children to be sure that someone will support them in their old age.
And so 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.
NORRIS: You talk about, Mr. Gates, the virtuous cycle. You know, you're not just doing this from Washington State, you've been traveling the world. I wonder if there's been, in terms of a personal cycle for you and something -the things that you've experienced on the ground in your travels; how have you changed through the course of this work?
Mr. GATES: Well, Melinda and I take several trips every year. We like doing that together, where we can go into the slums and go, wow, you know, we, you know, this is so important to improve this. You know, it touches your heart and makes you rededicated to this when you actually see the people who need help.
Ms. GATES: Well, for me, particularly when I travel in the slums talking to the women about what is life really like for them and for their children, those are the experiences I carry back to the foundation. And when I walk through the door of the foundation and we're approving grants and we're talking about the business of the foundation, I really constantly try to go back to those women, what I say on the other side of the mat, because often you sit with them on one side mat and they're on the other. And I often try to say to myself, what would it be like for me and my children if we were on the other side of the mat? What would I need? What would I want from the world? And then I bring myself back to my side of the mat and say, okay what voice can I give to these women? That's what I carry with me.
NORRIS: Bill and Melinda Gates, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Ms. GATES: Thank you very much.
Mr. GATES: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was Bill and Melinda Gates speaking to us this morning from Medina, Washington. And we should note that NPR receives support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.