A Conversation with the CEO of the Gates Foundation

Jeff Raikes, CEO, BMGF

I was very pleasantly surprised last week when I received an invitation to a dinner hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The dinner, a networking event designed to introduce the new India Office Country Director, Mr. Girindre Beeharry, was held last evening, and was an interesting experience, most especially because of a conversation that Divya Datta and I had with Mr. Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Foundation. In his opening address to the gathering, Mr. Raikes invited everyone to answer the question of what the Foundation should be doing, as well as what we think it should not be doing.

Divya was eager to talk to Mr. Raikes, and so we developed a strategy to skirt all the people gathered around him and finally got a chance to introduce ourselves. We talked to him about the Bihar Innovation Lab and the kind of work we would be doing there, about CKS’ approaches to innovations in healthcare, as well as some of our past work in Bihar including of course, the Vaccine Delivery Kit (or as I like to think of it, Divya’s Baby). And this led us to the essence of Divya’s desire to talk to Mr. Raikes – her opinion of what the Foundation should be doing better.

She mentioned that, in her experience with field work in Bihar, she had come across a whole plethora of programs and initiatives for frontline health workers (FHWs) introduced by a range of different social sector as well as public sector organizations. While each of these innovations could be useful and effective, and may help transform the service delivery experience for FHWs and their beneficiaries, the sheer number of initiatives seemed exhausting and confusing. The problem, then, lies in the lack of coordination and integration of efforts. What is needed is a more holistic and better coordinated approach to health innovation, especially in the delivery of services, as Divya suggested. Mr. Raikes was attentive throughout, and agreed vehemently that there was a definite need for the Foundation to consolidate its various efforts and enable better coordination between different grantees working on related issues. He invited Divya to write him an email explaining her point in greater detail as well as suggesting a few ways in which to address the problem.

I moved away from the conversation marveling a little at how easy it was to talk to Mr. Raikes, how accessible he was in his manner, and especially at his openness about the ways in which the Foundation could improve the way it works. It made me wonder how Indian counterparts to Mr. Raikes, or senior officials in the government, would react in a similar situation, and whether they would have been as receptive. It also made me think more about the kind of open and non-hierarchical structure I wish more organizations had, wherein even the most senior leadership would be willing to listen to the opinions of far more junior resources. Innovation arises most from situations where trust, participation and inclusion thrive. Perhaps, then, this kind of organizational innovation is exactly what is required in the effort to transform India into an innovation nation.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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