Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: While you wouldn’t exactly call the Gates Foundation a pure science funder, the foundation’s sprawling programs frequently support research. Gates’ chosen experts often receive large, multi-year grants. 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 main 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.

PROFILE: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation can be a little intimidating for anyone seeking funding. Annual giving generally reaches into the billions, and when the Gates Foundation devotes itself to an issue, it can reshape the landscape of that cause.

Gates isn't a dedicated foundation for science or academia. Its priorities are diverse, but more often than not relate to addressing poverty and disease. Scientific research is an important - but not exclusive - component of the foundation’s approach to these issues. The main thing to keep in mind with the foundation is that all grantmaking is in the service of these larger programs.

For science researchers, the first of these programs is 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 go toward a mix of work on this topic, 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 is always looking 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 nimble programs is called Grand Challenges. The foundation launched the Grand Challenges in Global Health in 2003 as a way to spur innovative ideas to solve global health problems. Grand Challenges now 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, so it’s not walled off like some other large funders. 

That said, Gates gives big and thinks big, so be prepared with a plan that is large, ambitious, and potentially transformative. Check out the foundation’s grants database for more detailed, up-to-date information on the most recent awards.