Brian Arbogast, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

TITLE: Director, Global Development, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene

FUNDING AREAS: New sanitation technologies, urban WASH projects, and advocacy

CONTACT: brian.arbogast@gatesfoundation.org, 206-709-3100

IP TAKE: Given his background, it may be a good idea to have big concepts that combine tech and WASH to catch the attention of Arbogast.

PROFILE: Looking outside of philanthropic circles to fulfill their leadership needs is not a new practice for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But when it comes to Brian Arbogast, the director of the foundation's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program, there is only one degree of separation between him and Bill Gates.

Prior to accepting his new position, Arbogast worked for Bill Gates in a different capacity. He spent more than two decades at Microsoft, first as a software engineer and eventually in the executive suite as corporate vice president "leading an international portfolio of research and development projects," before leaving Microsoft corporation in favor of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Of course this means that Arbogast knows his way around Windows technology, but throughout the course of his tech career he has also spent a great deal of time focusing his efforts on socially conscious endeavors. For example, he has served as:

  • A founding board member of Progress Alliance of Washington
  • A member of the investment committee at the W Fund
  • An adviser of Upaya Social Ventures
  • A board member at Water 1st International
  • A board member for Ethical Electric
  • A board member and angel adviser for Northwest Energy Angels (NWEA)

All of this means that Arbogast doesn't really evoke the typical image of someone who has spent more than two decades in the high-tech industry. In fact, it looks like he has spent just as much time working on clean technology, clean energy, and sustainable water supply and sanitation projects as he did rising through the ranks at Microsoft. This duality is also reflected in his educational combination of a bachelor's degree in mathematics in computer science from the University of Waterloo and a certificate in sustainable business from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Gates did not hand Arbogast a foundation program with training wheels. The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program is big, awarding nearly $67 million in grants in 44 programs in 2013 across its five strategies:

  • Transformative Technologies: Focusing on developing and implementing affordable WASH technologies in the developing world;
  • Urban Sanitation Markets: Working with local governments and community-based organizations to help build new WASH policies;
  • Building Demand for Sanitation: Helping stimulate demand for improved WASH technologies for the rural poor;
  • Policy and Advocacy: Encouraging appropriate and adequate sanitation policies for low-income populations;
  • Monitoring Evaluation: Evaluating the efficacy and impact of the foundation's WASH program.

Arbogast's interests in "leveraging market solutions to address the world's most pressing challenges, from helping clean technology startups successfully lead a sustainability revolution to helping people in underdeveloped communities pull themselves out of poverty," blends right in with the foundation's broad grantmaking goals. The details of Abogast's thinking is well-articulated in his engaging blog posts for the foundation, where he reflects his ideals and the nature of the sector's challenges by regaling the reader with his travels around the world.

Larger organizations are typically awarded the lions share of big Gates grants. For example, the Research Triangle Institute International received a grant for more than $5 million to deliver a better sanitation solution to people who lack sufficient access to safe and effective sanitation, and Asian Development Bank was given $15 million to innovate policies, business models, and technologies for sanitation and septage management services in poor communities.

But Arbogast doesn't neglect smaller foundations. He awarded $5,350 to Administrative Staff College of India to develop a plan for universal access to safe sanitation in Warangal City (Andhra Pradesh, India), and $16,984 to Infrastructure Development Corporation in Karnataka to transform non-piped sanitation systems and explore sustainable options for service delivery to the population residing in slums who currently do not have access to sanitation facilities.

Clean technology is an area in which Arbogast has worked in for a number of years. Those seeking a grant that combines WASH issues with clean tech will be hitting two of his areas of interest. The program is not currently accepting unsolicited LOIs and RFPs. However, Gates does announce new grant opportunities on its website as they arise.