Millions of Vaccine Doses Administered

2 02 2009

Not long ago there was an editorial in the NY Times commenting on the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here are some quick stats (from the Foundation Web site and the article):

  • Immunization is currently at an all-time high, but still 21% of children worldwide do not have access to vaccines that could prevent deadly diseases
  • Every year, 2.4 million children die from preventable diseases despite the availability of effective vaccines
  • Transporting vaccines is very difficult to do cost-effectively, because most have to be kept at a controlled, optimal temperature
  • The Foundation’s goal is to increase the use of effective but underused vaccines and introduce new vaccines to prevent a total of 4 million deaths per year
  • The Foundation has provided $107.6 million so far as part of the joint Glaxo initiative for malaria. Glaxo says it has spent about $300 million and expects to invest $50 million to $100 million more to complete the project. If all goes well, the vaccine could be submitted for regulatory approval in 2011.
  • The number of children under 5 who die annually has been cut in half since 1960 

Of all the organizations I have looked into to date, the Gates Foundation most closely aligns with what I’ve been trying to capture in this blog. Here is an excerpt from Bill’s most recent annual letter:

“I love the work at the foundation. Although there are many differences [between the Foundation and Microsoft], it also has the three magical elements. First there are opportunities for big breakthroughs—from discovering new vaccines that can save millions of lives to developing new seeds that will let a farming family have better productivity, improve their children’s nutrition, and sell some of the extra output. Second, I feel like my experience in building teams of smart people with different skill sets focused on tough long-term problems can be a real contribution. The common sense of the business world, with its urgency and focus, has strong application in the philanthropic world.”

I strongly agree with that statement, in particular that there are parallels to solving hard problems in both business and philanthropy. There are certainly nuances that are different, but I have to believe that defining the problem statement, developing the approach, building the plan, and executing with urgency are all skills that directly port over from developing and shipping a product vs. developing and delivering a vaccine.

The main difference, which is the core point,  is that the factors you’re trying to optimize are much more meaningful in the philanthropy case. If you don’t make quarterly earnings, investors get mad and people get fired. Maybe. If you don’t deliver vaccines at the right temperature or at all, 2.4 million kids die. The contrast in urgency is so clear to me, yet so many people treat business as life and death.

Much better in my mind to do exactly what Bill is doing, in having two careers. First, spend time in the business word training and getting experience in getting things done, and generating enough personal wealth to ensure your kids are supported. Then, in your second career, transition and apply those developed skills into solving “real problems”, i.e. those that really do mean life and death.


To get involved…

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation




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