Bill Gates visits UNSW

By AGSM student, Sarah Reed  Tuesday, 4 June 2013  Features

What would you do with your money if you had a spare billion dollars in your bank account? Would any of us decide to invest in global health and development initiatives solely to improve the social determinants of health for people living in the most economically disadvantaged countries in the world?

Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chairs of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation did; and their efforts are making a measurable difference in global health outcomes for millions of people. Based in Seattle, Washington, the Foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Foundation currently employs about 1,100 people. The asset trust endowment is estimated to be worth US$36B with total grant payments (since inception) estimated to be in the area of US$26B. In 2012, the Foundation's total grant payments amounted to US$3.4B and those are expected to increase to US$4B over the next two years. It is hard to think of other examples of private citizens who have made the choice to be so generous with their personal time and resources.

Bill Gates visited the UNSW's Clancy Auditorium on Tuesday, 28 May, to take part in the taping of a special segment of ABC TV's Q&A, which was moderated by Tony Jones. Gates was in Australia (for a total of 14 hours) primarily to speak to Government and opposition leaders about the importance of continuing Australia's engagement in foreign aid programs.

Gates, a committed advocate of foreign aid initiatives, remarked that even small contributions from economically stable nations can make measurable differences in the long-term health outcomes of entire nations.

Before the taping began, UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Fred Hilmer and NSW Premiere Barry O'Farrell welcomed the world's most prominent philanthropist to the campus and the State. UNSW Chancellor Mr David Gonski also took an opportunity to ask Mr Gates why, after his successful career with Microsoft, he wanted to step up to another professional challenge, this time tackling some of the world's toughest health issues. Mr Gates said he felt strongly about giving back and began to set up the Gates Foundation before he left Microsoft, with the strategy of transitioning to the Foundation full time when the time was right for both organisations. And we should all be glad he did. The work of the Gates Foundation has contributed to the near eradication of highly infectious diseases. For example, there are fewer than 300 cases of polio in the world today and only 700,000 known cases of malaria worldwide, with numbers decreasing every year.

Among the hundreds of projects the Gates Foundation supports is the Pacific Friends of the Global Fund, which operates under the auspices of the UNSW Foundation, to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Mention was also made on the day of the UNSW's Kirby Institute which is currently leading an international research project funded by the Gates Foundation (AUD$18 million) which has the potential to extend antiretroviral therapy to millions of HIV-affected people worldwide.

While studying full time at the AGSM, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my career in the health sector and how the business fundamentals I was learning will relate to the industry's complexities and future needs. I believe that private organisations like the Gates Foundation and individuals, like those of us with MBAs from the AGSM, have a leadership role to play in public health systems around the world. Specifically, in applying business principles to public health initiatives to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs and improve health outcomes for a diverse range of at-risk populations.

Article written by AGSM student, Sarah Reed who was in the audience of this special event