Jeff Raikes

CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


A chat with outgoing chief of the Gates Foundation, Jeff Raikes | 

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s biggest philanthropy, but big doesn’t by itself translate into best.

Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes and Bill Gates in Nigeria with health worker on polio campaign
Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes and Bill Gates in Nigeria with health worker on polio campaign
Gates Foundation

Making the Gates Foundation better has been Jeff Raikes’ job for the last five years or so. He has presided over dramatic growth – from a few hundred employees to now more than 1200 – and a significant reorganization internally. Raikes, a former top exec at Microsoft, announced he will be stepping down soon so Humanosphere interviewed him to get his take on the current state of the Gates Foundation.

Q What’s the biggest difference between helping run a company and helping run a philanthropy?

JR: There are some similarities but when you’re running a philanthropy you have a different set of metrics or goals or priorities. I’m somewhat stating the obvious but that’s a very important part of how you think about your leadership and how you structure the organization. At the same time, you need good people, good financial systems and a clear strategy. So as CEO there are some common features.

Q The Gates Foundation has changed a lot in the last five years. Bill Gates said the foundation is in the best shape it’s ever been thanks to you. Can you give me your perspective on the changes? Continue reading

Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes to step down | 

Jeff RaikesThe CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, former Microsoft executive Jeff Raikes, announced today he will be stepping down after five years running the world’s largest philanthropy. Raikes, who met with staff today to talk about his decision, sent out an email as well:

I am proud of the work we’ve all done together in the past five years. We are having an impact on people’s lives every single day, and we are set up to keep on having an even bigger impact in the years to come.

Raikes has presided over rapid growth and a major internal re-organization at the Gates Foundation, including efforts made to improve the philanthropy’s relationship with grantees, its reputed ‘sensitivity’ to criticism and transparency concerns.

Here are a few other news reports from The Seattle Times, Wall Street Journal and Geekwire on the announcement which, like Humanosphere, so far pretty much only repeat the basics of the Gates Foundation press release. We hope to talk with Raikes later today about his tenure.

Gates Foundation CEO describes how measuring polio is key to ending it | 

Bill Gates issued his annual letter for 2013 today, in which he makes the case for measurement as a critical tool to fighting poverty, disease and inequality.

The call for better measurement and evaluation within the aid and development community is popular, but hardly new. And, as we noted earlier in the week when Gates spilled the beans on what he was going to say this year, it’s one thing to measure something and quite another to be certain you’re looking at the right variables, getting meaningful numbers and coming up with an answer that actually provides you with a useful new course of action.

Jeff RaikesThat’s why I wanted to tell Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill& Melinda Gates Foundation, the story of the drunk under the street light.

You know, this guy sees a drunk guy crawling around under a light looking for his car keys. He asks the drunk where exactly he thinks he dropped the keys. “Over there in that dark alley,” replies the inebriate. So the guy asks, why look here? Drunk guy: “The light is better.”

“…” said Raikes, blankly looking like he thought agreeing to this interview maybe wasn’t such a good idea.

My point was that measurement and evaluation are fine, but as Albert Einstein said: “Some things that are worth doing can’t be measured; And some things that can be measured aren’t worth doing.”

The eradication of polio is a top priority right now for the Gates Foundation, as Gates notes in his 2013 letter and has said many times over the years — saying so again in a speech this week  in London. He thinks it can be done by 2018, a fairly bold prediction because it’s been made by others so many times over and has, so far, never happened. Said Gates:

“The number of global polio cases has been under 1,000 cases for the last two years, but getting rid of the very last few cases is the hardest part.”

Yeah, so how can measurement help? Continue reading

Point of clarification on 5 key points from Gates Foundation 2012 report | 

Tom Paulson

Last week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation release its annual report and I did a quick analysis of it, which I dubbed the Top Five Points. I selected five things from the annual report which caught my attention, one of which made some folks at the philanthropy unhappy.

That was point 3:

There’s nothing in this annual letter (or in Raikes’ new blog post) following up on what has been a chronic complaint about the Gates Foundation — it’s lack of transparency and relatively poor communication skills with grant recipients and outsiders. Last year, Raikes addressed this complaint head-on and said they intended to improve. Does anybody know what happened? Did I miss something?

Well, I did miss something. My words are factually correct — in that this chronic problem was not mentioned in the annual report. But I did, in fact, neglect to mention a number of efforts underway by the Seattle philanthropy to improve its communications with grant recipients and the outside community. I neglected them because I didn’t know about them. Continue reading

Gates Foundation calls 2,000 of its closest friends | 

Gates Foundation

Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes

Jeff Raikes and other senior leaders at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today engaged in a conference call with 2,000 or so grant recipients in order to improve their ability to communicate.

Raikes said it’s especially difficult to get honest, critical feedback in philanthropy — as compared to business — because of the unique nature of the enterprise. Says Raikes:

There are no “natural” feedback loops built in – if you’re doing something that is not helpful or impactful – your grantee partners are not likely to tell you. It takes a long time to get meaningful data on how we’re doing.

This has been a bit of a chronic problem for the Seattle mega-philanthropy. I wrote about this most recently in a glib (attempt at humor) post last August when the Gates Foundation 2010 annual report  was issued:

Gates Foundation Shrinks Annual Report, Chronic(les) Failure to Communicate

Tom Paulson

Basically, I was noting that the Gates Foundation is widely viewed by many outsiders, including grant recipients, as somewhat inscrutable. It has been saying for years it wants to improve on its ability to communicate with perhaps little evidence of improvement (and even as its annual report has dramatically shrunk in size, a good thing but symbolically irresistable to me): Continue reading

Gates Foundation shrinks report, chronic(les) failure to communicate | 

Tom Paulson

As noted yesterday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation released its annual report for 2010 and, once again, promised to do a better job of communicating and improving on transparency.

Upon further scrutiny of the report, I noticed two trends:

  • First, the Gates Foundation annual report is getting shorter every year. This year’s report is eight pages long, last year’s was 16 pages, the 2008 report was 23 pages, in 2007 it was 49 pages … and so on. This may be due to the fact that much of the information is on the web, but I thought this was curious.
  • Secondly, the admission of having a problem communicating with grantees and the outside world seems to go back even further than I initially thought. See below how this theme has repeated itself for years in the annual report.

For the basics on the report — program areas, achievements and financials — you can read the annual report yourself or the Seattle Times’ summary of it.

The basics: They gave out $2.5 billion, accomplished some good things (such as PATH’s meningitis vaccine project and other initiatives I’ve reported on), tripled staffing to nearly 1,000 people and are working on improving in certain areas. Below is the BMGF’s pie chart showing the distribution of funds.

Gates Foundation

BMGF funding by program area

And below is my timeline of Gates Foundation CEO references to the problem the world’s biggest philanthropy seems to have with communicating to grantees and the outside world. To their credit, I have to say, they are at least being very open and honest about the problem. But one has to wonder why it has become so chronic:

I noted yesterday (and in the first link above) what Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Gates Foundation, said in this year’s (2010) annual report about the need for improving communication.

Here’s what Raikes said in the 2009 annual report:

Last year I announced that the foundation would be commissioning a Grantee Perception Report, and I promised that I’d report back about our findings.
They were sobering. We received below-average ratings on many aspects of the grantee experience. We take this feedback very seriously, because we understand that some of these barriers are preventing us and our grantees from maximizing our impact. We don’t see our work as a popularity contest—there is bound to be some tension in even the most productive relationships—but we know that we must do everything we can to make sure that we and our grantees can have the maximum possible impact. We spent much of the past year digesting the results and developing a plan to address them.

In the 2008 annual report, Raikes said much the same thing after noting that his first priority coming in as the new CEO was to improve “internal processes” at the philanthropy:

My second priority is to improve the quality of our external partnerships, which are our lifeblood. I know we are not doing as good a job as we can in this area. Starting with me, everybody at the foundation needs to make a concerted effort to listen more carefully to what our partners in the field have to tell us.

To that end, we are working with the Center for Effective Philanthropy to survey all of our active grantees this fall. In the past, we’ve received some feedback from our grantees that pointed out areas where they thought we were doing well and other areas, particularly with respect to how we interact with them, where we had room to improve.

In 2007, then-CEO Patty Stonesifer also said in the annual report that the Gates Foundation needs to do a better job of communicating — especially listening — with grantees and outsiders:

First: Listen to your partners…. working with partners requires, more than anything, listening hard to what they have to say. While you’re listening, make sure you’re hearing the full story. The danger isn’t in what people do tell you—it’s in what they don’t.

It’s amazing what people won’t tell you when you have billions of dollars to give away.

It’s also kind of amazing how long the Gates Foundation has been struggling with this problem — of encouraging an open and honest dialogue with those outside the philanthropy.

Perhaps the reason this issue has become such a chronic refrain isn’t due to the lack of coming up with some new plan, or timeline or committee-designed set of principles, as it is about developing a new mindset.

As a journalist who’s been covering the Gates Foundation for more than a decade, I’ve seen it evolve from an upstart start-up philanthropy run by just a handful of people — who were actually pretty bold, outspoken and perhaps even a bit reckless — into a massive, fairly bureaucratic and apparently risk-averse organization.

Fling open the doors, I say. Let us all in on your arguments, your admissions of failure and frustrations. We know you’re trying to make the world a better place. We’d like to help.