Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: While the Gates Foundation is not exclusively a science funder, the foundation’s programs frequently support research. Support for science research has often been directed at disease prevention, health care, and other issues affecting least developed countries.

IP TAKE: The Gates Foundation’s priorities that involve scientific research are Global Health and Global Development. Aside from some recurring contests, the foundation is extremely involved with its grantees, crafting complex and long-term initiatives to address major issues. Gates’ chosen grantees often receive large, multi-year grants.

PROFILE: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was founded in 2000 by Bill Gates, co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation, and his wife Melinda.  The foundation sees “equal value in all lives” and seeks to “improve the quality of life for individuals around the world.” Annual giving generally reaches into the billions, and when the Gates Foundation devotes itself to an issue, it can make a significant impact on that cause. Its priorities are diverse but frequently focus on poverty and disease. Scientific research is an important - but not exclusive - component of the foundation’s approach to these issues. Grantmaking for science research is typically focused on two larger programs: Global Health and Global Development.

The foundation prioritizes global health. Gates is probably best known for its work on disease –both prevention and treatment – particularly as it relates to developing populations. Large research grants support a mix of disease-work including vaccines, delivery of medical care, and medical research. Its disease-related priorities include discovery and translational sciences (including medical research on vaccines and treatment for common but deadly illnesses), enteric and diarrheal diseases, infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia, polio, and tuberculosis), and neglected tropical diseases.

The foundation's other major international program for science research, Global Development, is dedicated to fighting poverty and improving opportunities in developing countries. In some areas, this program’s priorities overlap with its work in Global Health. In addition to areas like financial services, libraries, and emergency response, some interests call upon research to make breakthroughs. In particular, this program funds a lot of technical innovation, as Gates looks for ways that new inventions can improve quality of life. Areas of interest include agricultural development; maternal, neonatal, and child health; and several other health-related initiatives that range from nutrition to sanitation.

One of the Gates Foundation’s more accessible programs is called Grand Challenges. The foundation launched the Grand Challenges in Global Health in 2003 as a way to generate innovative ideas to solve global health problems. Grand Challenges includes multiple partners who work both collectively and independently. There’s also the Grand Challenges Explorations offshoot, which encourages more adventurous ideas from a wide range of disciplines. Challenges have included building a better toilet, making a better condom, new ways to transport and deliver vaccines, stopping transmission of disease by insects, and agricultural innovations.

While Gates’s size and scope may be intimidating, it does make several rotating requests for proposals. A list of past grantees can be found on the foundation’s grants database .

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