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What health care windows might Gates open?

Helen Palmer Jun 16, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Investors don’t seem to care one way or the other what Bill Gates does with his life. Microsoft shares rose just a tenth of a percent today. Gates is stepping away from day-to-day involvement with the company. Gonna focus more on his charitable work. It’s already made him Time magazine’s “person of the year”— a recognition he shared with his wife Melinda and U2 singer Bono. Microsoft probably won’t change much. But what’s the move going to mean for the world’s richest foundation? From the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH, Helen Palmer has that story.

HELEN PALMER: The Gates Foundation’s endowment is over $29 billion — almost three times the size of its closest rival, the Ford Foundation with $11.6 billion.

STACEY PALMER: They’re almost as big as a country, so they’re able to do a lot!

Stacey Palmer edits the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She says the $10.5 billion the Foundation’s given away in the last 12 years has galvanize donors in government and business. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Earth Institute calls both Gates and his influence iconic.

JEFFREY SACHS: It’s the leveraging efect tht’s so remarkable on top of the very large flow that comes from the foundation itself.

Sachs points to the Foundation’s $1.5 billion donation to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization that helped leverage $4 billion from European countries. And the Foundation’s partnered with drug companies to spur the development of vaccines for diseases like malaria. Palmer thinks Gates will apply his business experience to the Foundation even more in the future.

STACEY PALMER: Getting Bill Gates time and energy in addition to his money could have the potential to make this philanthropy far more effective.

Some experts says business savvy doesn’t translate seamlessly to philanthropy. Allen Grossman teaches management practice at Harvard Business School.

ALLEN GROSSMAN: Ideally, someone like Bill Gates will use the same tough approach that he has in the business world, and by that I mean he won’t be seduced by approaches that aren’t based on fact.

Grossman says Gates should apply business rigor to verify that the Foundation’s grants are properly used, but he’ll need to soften his hardball approach and learn diplomacy and sensitivity.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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