Valerie Nkamgang Bemo, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Global Development

FUNDING AREAS: Emergency response—natural disasters, economic crisis and other complex crises.

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Dr. Valerie Bemo, a native of Cameroon, has short-term as well as long-term duties at Gates. As manager of the Emergency Response portfolio, she must ensure that crisis response operations are properly resourced. 

PROFILE: Valerie Bemo is wears a couple of hats at the Gates Foundation, drawing on her years of experience to discharges her duties. Her responsibilities in emergency response bring her talents and skills to other parts of the world as well – she is as familiar with the difficulties in Aceh, Indonesia as she is with those in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Cote d'Ivoire. In 2005, she set up an unstaffed clinic after an earthquake devastated Aceh, treating long lines of patients for injuries from the quake as well as for medical problems unrelated to the disaster. That followed her work for the International Rescue Committee in Cote d'Ivoire where she was involved in running a large water and sanitation program serving 250 villages in the western part of the country. 

Bemo has leveraged this hard-earned credibility with board membership at the Global Health Council and also at the Fetzer Institute Advisory Council for Health Professionals. Given her experience and firsthand knowledge, she has gained an understanding of the difficulties the people on the front lines face, and the needs of the people being helped.

Grants for Emergency Response run to six figures in most cases, with an occasional million-dollar award. Recent awards include:

  • $1 million over 12 months to the United States Fund for UNICEF to deal with a measles outbreak in Punjab, Pakistan
  • $400,000 over 12 months to help Oxfam-America help communities affected by flash floods in Sudan 
  • $500,000 over 12 months so that World Vision can aid flood and landslide affected populations in Uttarakhand, India 

On the agricultural development end of things, she herself has targeted Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria for her work with the Foundation's agricultural initiatives. In her own words, this includes: 

  • “Ground-truthing country context and developing country strategy
  • Providing a voice from the region to the foundation’s Seattle headquarters
  • Building partnership and understanding donor/partner context and landscape
  • Providing social and cultural context
  • Enhancing impact by influencing and shaping investments in coordination with foundation stakeholders.”

Bemo's team has awarded sums as small as $50,000 and as large as $11.6 million, with a majority in the six-figure or low seven-figure range. These include:

  • $11.6 million to the One Acre Fund over 38 months to “significantly increase smallholder farmer adoption of existing and impactful technologies.”
  • $990,000 to the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, “to provide local institutions and development practitioners with a low-cost and effective Agricultural Remote Sensing Information System (ARSIS) for gathering data on cropping areas and other data services related to smallholder agriculture.” 
  • $1.5 million to the Farm Journal Foundation “to build a new rural U.S. constituency of champions for global agricultural development.” This particular grant is interesting as it demonstrates a political skillfulness – gaining friends in Washington makes things easier all around.

Whether in an emergency response role or agricultural development, she says the biggest challenge is security. Pure and simple, violence disrupts plans and the more security is built into projects, the more likely they are to succeed. In emergency situations, local authorities are often overwhelmed, and farmers can't really pack up their crops and flee an invading army.

Bemo says that collaboration among various stakeholders is vital to success, and she says that, in her experience, most are more than willing partners for the Foundation. She believes that free market development in agriculture is the way forward, giving every stakeholder an interest in success. This will boost collaborative action from upstream R&D down the line to adoption and scaling of projects and strategies. That, in turn, will improve security.

Bemo earned her MD from the University of Cote d’Ivoire, a diploma at the University of Paris in Epidemiology, and her MPH from Madrid Autonome University.