Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Profile

May 22, 2024


(Estimate read time: 5-6 minutes)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the world’s largest and most influential philanthropic organizations. Launched in 2000, it is reported to be the second largest charitable foundation in the world, holding $77.6 billion total grant payments[1] as of Q4 2023. Founded by Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Melinda Gates, the Gates Foundation plays a pivotal role in addressing global challenges across health, education, and more. For 2024, the Gates Foundation has set an even higher budget for funding, planning to spend $8.6 billion[2] – a 4 % increase from its funding in 2023. This represents the largest annual budget in the Foundation’s history, underscoring its ongoing commitment to tackle global challenges such as health inequities, child mortality, and infectious diseases. For a comprehensive overview of the funding and projects supported by the Gates Foundation, visit the Peeref Funding Listings.

Programs and Initiatives

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s work spans over 130 countries, targeting both developed and developing regions. The foundation focuses on several key areas:

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: The foundation’s projects in this region include healthcare initiatives to combat infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Additionally, it supports education and economic development programs to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods.
  • South Asia: In this region, the foundation’s efforts include advancing maternal and child health, improving educational access and quality, and supporting sustainable agricultural practices to improve food security.
  • United States: The foundation’s initiatives in the United States focus primarily on educational reform, addressing disparities in access and quality across various states. It also supports healthcare initiatives, particularly in underserved communities.
  • Global Initiatives: The foundation’s programs extend to other regions, including Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia, where it supports initiatives to address healthcare, education, and economic development challenges.

Chart 1[3]

The foundation engages with researchers from diverse backgrounds, including:

  • Healthcare Professionals: Medical researchers, epidemiologists, and public health experts contribute to the foundation's global health initiatives, working on projects that advance medical knowledge and improve healthcare outcomes.
  • Educators and Academics: The foundation supports educational researchers, curriculum developers, and policy analysts who contribute to its education initiatives, advancing research and reforms that improve educational opportunities.
  • Social Scientists: Economists, sociologists, and other social scientists work with the foundation to address economic disparities and promote sustainable development, contributing to projects that improve livelihoods and reduce poverty.

Here is a condensed timeline for the milestones of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

Chart 2

Who Funds the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation?

Bill and Melinda Gates: The foundation’s primary funding comes from its founders, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and Melinda Gates. The Gates family’s substantial contributions have established a sizable endowment for the foundation, allowing it to support projects across global health, education, and development.

Warren Buffett: Warren Buffett, the renowned investor and philanthropist, is a major contributor to the foundation’s endowment. In 2006, Buffett committed to giving over 85% of his Berkshire Hathaway shares to charities, with approximately $31 billion directed to the Gates Foundation[4]. As of 2023, Buffett has donated nearly $39.3 billion to the Gates foundation. His support has further strengthened the foundation's financial base and its ability to fund impactful projects. In June 2021, Warren Buffett stepped down as a trustee for 15 years at the foundation.

Investment Returns: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust manages the foundation’s endowment, investing it across various sectors to generate returns. The income from these investments provides additional financial resources, ensuring the foundation’s sustainability and enabling it to continue supporting its diverse initiatives.

Chart 3. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust has a portfolio value of over $25B. Here’s how that trust is invested, based on its 2020 year-end holdings at current market values[5].

(Source: Visual Capitalist)

Where does the fund go?

Project Funding:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation actively promotes equity in global health and education by funding various projects. These initiatives encompass technology, education, and gender equality, aiming to create lasting positive impacts. Notable examples include:

  • Generative Artificial Intelligence Projects: The Foundation funds projects utilizing generative AI to address pressing issues in low- and middle-income countries. By leveraging AI technologies, the Foundation aims to help African innovators focus on key areas, including health, agriculture, financial services, and innovation, and advance their developments.
  • Women in Leadership: This program supports women's economic empowerment, education, and health, essential factors in advancing women into leadership roles. Countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia have been focal points, as women in these regions face unique challenges.

Disease Control:

The Foundation plays a significant role in global disease control efforts, funding projects to reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases and improve healthcare outcomes:

  • Tuberculosis Vaccine Trials: The foundation funds Phase 3 clinical trials for tuberculosis vaccines, aiming to improve treatment options for millions of tuberculosis patients worldwide.

Chart 4[6]

  • Global Health Initiatives: The Foundation also funds initiatives that address other infectious diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, and polio. This support includes research and development of vaccines and treatments, medical research, and healthcare infrastructure improvements.

Chart 5[7]

Research Support:

The Foundation provides significant support for research efforts across various sectors, contributing to societal progress and positive impacts worldwide:

  • Grants and Funding: The Foundation provides grants directly to research institutions, universities, and individual researchers. These grants often focus on projects addressing global health, agriculture, education, and other initiatives that align with the Foundation’s goals.

Connections with the SCI community

Dr. Trevor Mundel

The current president of Global Health at the Gates Foundation, Dr. Mundel oversees numerous collaborations in the global health sector. Prior to joining the foundation in 2011, Trevor was global head of development with Novartis and previously was involved in clinical research at Pfizer and Parke-Davis.

Dr. Christopher J. Elias

As the president of Global Development at the Gates Foundation, Dr. Elias manages numerous collaborations, particularly in healthcare, agriculture, and development sectors. Prior to joining the Gates Foundation in February 2012, he worked in various positions and countries for international nonprofit organizations, most recently serving as the president and CEO of PATH.

Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann

The former CEO of the Gates Foundation, Dr. Desmond-Hellmann has strong connections to the scientific community, particularly in the medical and research sectors. In 2021, Dr. Desmond-Hellman was appointed by President Joe Biden to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). In March 2024, Dr. Desmond-Hellman was appointed to OpenAI’s Board of Directors.

Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH)

This organization works closely with the Gates Foundation, involving numerous researchers and scholars to address global health issues.

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI)

The Gates Foundation collaborates with GAVI on various vaccine-related initiatives. This partnership includes contributions from numerous researchers and institutions in the health sector.

Connections with the Government

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation collaborates extensively with governments worldwide to address critical global challenges. This collaboration involves partnerships, policy influence, funding, and capacity-building efforts.

  • Global Health Initiatives: The Foundation works closely with governments and international organizations to support global health initiatives. A notable example is its involvement in the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, alongside entities such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF. The Foundation provides funding, technical assistance, and advocacy support to eradicate polio, helping governments implement vaccination programs, improve healthcare infrastructure, and raise awareness.
  • Education Sector: The Foundation engages with governments to influence policies that enhance access to quality education and improve educational outcomes. For instance, its Global Education Program collaborates with various countries to develop and implement education policies addressing disparities in access, curriculum quality, and teacher training.
  • Economic Development: The Foundation’s Global Growth and Opportunity Program collaborates with governments to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic development. This includes funding projects and initiatives that address economic disparities, improve livelihoods, and support sustainable growth. The Foundation also works with governments to build capacity in key sectors, such as healthcare and education, through training programs, resource development, and technical assistance.
  • Legal Compliance: The Foundation does not engage in or provide project support funding for lobbying communications, as defined under U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules. When engaging with government partners on legislation, the Foundation operates under the IRS lobbying exceptions, allowing it to educate, provide technical assistance, share nonpartisan analysis research, and work on jointly funded projects with governments.

Global Grand Challenges Program

Chart 6. As of 2023, the Global Grand Challenges has awarded 3851 grants over 119 countries[8].

(Source: Global Grand Challenges)

The Global Grand Challenges program seeks to address critical global challenges by funding research, projects, and innovations that offer groundbreaking solutions. This initiative spans a broad range of topics, emphasizing solutions that have the potential to create sustainable, positive impacts worldwide.

Main focus areas:

  1. Global Health: The program supports research and projects aimed at improving health outcomes worldwide. This includes combating infectious diseases, advancing maternal and child health, and reducing health disparities globally.
  2. Education: The program funds initiatives designed to enhance access to quality education, develop new educational resources, and promote equitable education opportunities. It aims to bridge the educational divide and create sustainable, scalable solutions.
  3. Agricultural Innovation: Projects aimed at increasing agricultural productivity, improving food security, and developing sustainable farming practices are also part of the program's focus. These initiatives help to reduce hunger and support economic development in vulnerable communities.

Support for Researchers:

Researchers can find support from the Global Grand Challenges Program in various ways:

  • Funding: The program offers grants to researchers, organizations, and institutions to conduct research projects aligned with its focus areas. These grants can cover project costs, including resources, equipment, and research personnel. Phase I grants will be for $100,000 USD for a grant period of 18 months. Phase I projects that show promise will be eligible to apply for follow-on funding, called “Phase II.”
  • Networking and Collaboration: The program facilitates connections between researchers, enabling collaborations that can amplify the impact of their work. This network includes academic institutions, private organizations, and other non-governmental entities.
  • Mentorship and Guidance: Through its programs and partnerships, the Global Grand Challenges Program provides mentorship and guidance to researchers, offering expertise to navigate challenges and refine their projects.

How to Get Involved:

  1. Explore Funding Opportunities: Visit the Global Grand Challenges website to explore current and past calls for proposals. New challenges are periodically announced, each with specific focus areas and objectives. You could also stay tuned by visiting Peeref’s Funding page, where you can see the amount of funding available and the deadlines for application. The page is constantly updated to provide the latest information on available funds for researchers.
  2. Submit a Proposal: Once a suitable funding opportunity is identified, researchers can prepare and submit a proposal outlining their project, goals, methodology, and expected impact. Proposals undergo a review process to assess their alignment with the program’s objectives.
  3. Engage with the Community: The Global Grand Challenges Program encourages researchers to engage with its community, participating in conferences, workshops, and events. This involvement can help build networks, gain insights, and contribute to the program’s initiatives.

For step-by-step instructions on how to apply for a grant, visit the Application Guidelines.

Notes and references:

  1. GatesFoundation. (n.d.-a). Foundation fact sheet (at a glance). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  2. Tremayne-Pengelly, A. (2024b, March 7). Gates Foundation announces record $8.6B annual budget for 2024. Observer.

  3. Goalkeepers 2023 Report. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.-b).

  4. O’brien, T. L., & Saul, S. (2006, June 26). Buffett to give bulk of his fortune to Gates Charity. The New York Times.

  5. Ross, J. (2021, May 5). How does the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Invest its money?. Visual Capitalist.

  6. Goalkeepers 2023 Report. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.-b).

  7. Id.

  8. About grand challenges. Global Grand Challenges. (n.d.).