Monica Kerrigan, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

TITLE: Deputy Director, Family Planning

FUNDING AREAS: Family planning access, care, technologies, and rights for women and girls in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa

CONTACT: monica.kerrigan@gatesfoundation.org, 206-709-3100

IP TAKE: Kerrigan plays a key role in crafting global family planning strategy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She and her team are working to expand reproductive health access for 120 million women and girls in the world's poorest countries by 2020, and they've got a big budget to do it with. Kerrigan looks for grantees who are as ambitious as the foundation she works for, and funds them accordingly.

PROFILE: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is famous for its ambition. It gives away billions in grant money each year, and wants nothing less than to upend the global order of things in a way that empowers the disenfranchised and creates opportunity for all mankind. The foundation's staff are similarly ambitious. They have big ideas and set big goals and give out big grants in pretty much every corner of the planet. When it comes to family planning at Gates, there are few foundation staff as influential as Monica Kerrigan. 

Kerrigan has a long career in leading global reproductive health initiatives. She directed the Africa office at the Johns Hopkins Program for International Education in Reproductive Health. She's been a technical advisor at USAID. Before coming on with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007, Kerrigan led family planning programs for UNICEF in Indonesia. 

At Gates, Kerrigan creates strategy surrounding the foundation's reproductive health investments. Currently, she and her team have the goal of getting 120 million women and girls, in the world's poorest countries (most notably in Asia and Sub Saharan Africa), access to high-quality contraceptive information, services, and supplies by the year 2020. The foundation's long-term goal is universal access to voluntary family planning everywhere in the world. 

With aspirations this big, Gates supports its grantees like almost no other foundation can. Its individual reproductive health grants are usually larger than $1 million a piece. Also, grantees have a lot of flexibility in how they ask for funding. 

Gates regularly posts calls for proposals, often under the broad umbrella of "global health" (under which it shouldn't be too hard to argue for a reproductive health grant). In general, however, Gates likes to work with prospective grantees very early in the development process, well before receiving a complete funding application. The foundation wants to collaborate with potential partners to build a project ambitious enough for Gates to get behind. Having the institutional capacity to deliver is a major priority for Gates in selecting its grantees.

To provide a better sense of what Gates looks for when choosing where to invest, what follows is a short list of recent foundation grants in the area of global reproductive health:

  • $5 million to Aman Health Care Services to expand access to family planning services in Karachi, Pakistan.
  • $9.5 million to the United Nations Foundation to support the creation of a Family Planning 2020 Task Team.
  • $6.9 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation to lobby European leaders on including meaningful reproductive health policies in their development agendas leading up to 2020.

Keeping up with Kerrigan isn't terribly difficult. She maintains a more active public persona than many other senior foundation staff. Kerrigan is a regular on the conference circuit and publishes her thoughts on family planning policy on her employer's website. She also maintains an active Twitter account (see below) where she shares happenings in international family planning policy and philanthropy. Lately, Kerrigan seems to be a fan of Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg's philanthropic impulses and holding the World Bank accountable on commitments to global reproductive rights.