When was the last time you thought about the values that shape the way you live your life? Sometimes it is hard to define them verbally, maybe you define them by actions. Were your values reflected in your actions when you chose where to go to school, where
to live or even how you speak with your neighbor? We’ve been giving values a lot of thought lately.
When Bill and Melinda Gates established their foundation, they too thought a lot about the values that would guide decisions and actions of the organization. Recently, they revisited these guiding values and distilled them into these
four key values that flow from our mission. These values guide our strategic direction, investments and interactions with our partners and among ourselves here at the foundation: optimism,
collaboration, rigor and innovation.
We, in the Family Health Division, aspire to demonstrate those values and put them into action on a daily basis, through our investments and advocacy efforts. We are working to ensure that these guiding values are reflected in our everyday conversations
and actions, including the investments we make in our grantees and their projects. Here are a few examples that reflect our values coming to life in the commitments we have made with our partners:
Optimism. We strive to make sure that optimism is found in all of our investments, instilling an attitude to look beyond the tangible here and now. We want to identify the intangible yet possible, those world-changing ideas that we all have that
might only need an optimistic spark to make happen. The
Last 10 Kilometers project in Ethiopia exhibits such optimism. This project is taking a successful community-based health extension workers program and expanding the skills, scope and coverage it offers. Doing this will help more women have access to antenatal
care, a skilled attendant during childbirth, access to a basket of family planning methods, and improved care for newborns, to name just a few of the life-saving interventions that are getting scaled up with the Foundation’s investment. The health extension
worker program already existed, but it’s optimism that looked beyond enormous barriers to find a way to scale it up, demonstrating how to take this program, and potentially others like it, to new levels of impact.
Collaboration. Anyone working in global health would agree that working alone doesn’t work; all partners across various sectors must join together and be motivated with a clear, common focus to see the successes all are trying to accomplish. We
can achieve a greater impact only by working with others. Our investments in Bihar, India and the
Ananya project demonstrate this value. A collaborative effort of more than ten organizations, and the local government, complementary grants support joint ownership of the goals during this project’s implementation. Together, partners focus on improving
delivery of maternal and child health services; shaping social norms and reinforcing healthy behaviors; and strengthening efficiency and transparency of health payments. It’s an amazing partnership of diverse organizations and approaches to family health brought
together by a common purpose of markedly improving maternal and child health and survival state-wide; this is powerful collaboration in action.
Rigor. Our decisions are made through thoughtful analysis of evidence and lessons learned to maximize impact. For us, rigor implies being conscientious and using evidence to make decisions. We hope this value is one that is shared with all of our
partners, to insist on quality data and sound reasoning for decision making. The Maternal and Neonatal Directed Assessment of Technology (MANDATE) exhibits this rigor in its analytics of maternal and neonatal
deaths. Knowing the specific causes of death and the impact of interventions in the home, clinic and referral facilities is important to helping ensure that futuredeaths can be avoided, leading to improved prevention and treatment options at strategic levels
of the health system.
Innovation. We hope our efforts create an environment that encourages creative and novel ideas, new approaches and ways of thinking about problems we face in family health. Innovation can come in many forms—a new device to make deliveries of newborns
safer; or a new way to get contraceptives to women in rural areas; or a different approach to encourage healthier behaviors for mothers and children.
Saving Lives at Birth inspired hundreds of entrepreneurs, scientists, practitioners, and researchers to take a risk and think outside of the box to present some ideas to give mothers and newborns a better chance
of survival. Some of these ideas will be world changing; others will never even get past the prototype phase. But it is only through learning from many such attempts that the successful, game-changing ideas will be born.
These are just four of the hundreds of projects and partners that put the Foundation’s values of optimism, collaboration, rigor and innovation into practice each day within the Family Health Division. Understanding an organization’s values uncovers its true
identity, the real motivations, and the thoughtful consideration behind its choices. We hope our values are evident in our actions. And we hope that you will let us know how we can do better in applying these values into action in our interactions with you.