Gates Foundation CEO: Let's work together to solve global health issues
Jeff Raikes tells Life Science Innovation Northwest 2012 conference attendees that nonprofits and businesses should work together.
Seattle Times business reporter
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes said Wednesday that philanthropic organizations and for-profit businesses can and should work together to tackle global health issues.
"Our mission is to figure out how to exploit the assets that you have created for profit and turn them into assets for poor people," Raikes said.
"If we can figure out how to take the vaccine that was developed for rich kids and figure out how to get it to a price point and delivery mechanism for poor kids, then we succeeded."
That cooperation was the major point of his keynote speech and question-and-answer session that opened the Life Science Innovation Northwest 2012 conference in Seattle.
The two-day conference has attracted about 1,000 scientists, investors and representatives of private and nonprofit companies.
Attendees said they agreed with much of what Raikes discussed and thought his remarks were positive.
Monty Montoya, president and CEO of SightLife, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate corneal blindness, said Raikes' presence demonstrates the importance of merging the private and nonprofit sectors.
"Some of us ... kind of have this 'We're in the nonprofit sector so we're the holier-than-thou people and those commercial guys, all they are is money grubbers,'" Montoya said. "And I think the reality is ... why don't we figure out how they got Coca-Cola to the last village on Earth and use those same strategies to get a malaria vaccine there."
Montoya said Raikes bluntly stating his support for capitalism was surprising, because even a few years ago nonprofit companies didn't see eye to eye with their for-profit counterparts.
Raikes worked for Microsoft for more than 25 years before joining the Gates Foundation, the largest philanthropy in the world. He said several times during his speech that he supports the private sector and is a believer in capitalism.
But he added that many global health issues can't be effectively addressed through a for-profit approach.
"It's most effective when there's a market opportunity that the capitalist can see and take a risk on in order to get a return," he said. "What happens is that there are market failures, there are those things where there isn't an obvious market opportunity, and that does not draw the private sector in."
Raikes said these market failures are where the philanthropic and nonprofit companies, like the Gates Foundation, can risk money and resources in hopes the private or public sector will support and continue any breakthroughs.
Steve Burrill, CEO of San Francisco-based Burrill & Co., said money has started to dry up from venture capitalists, forcing some for-profit companies to do less in global health.
As such, partnerships between the private sector and nonprofit organizations have become more important.
"The normal, capitalism, for-profit world doesn't have an interest because there's no reward for me to spend billions of dollars to solve a problem and have to give it away," Burrill said.
"That problem is not going to be solved by the private sector. It is only going to be solved by some interaction between private-sector initiatives and public-sector initiatives."
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