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Bill Gates Describes How 'Catalytic Philanthropy' Can Help Bring Vaccines, Medicines To Untouched Markets

In an essay adapted for Forbes magazine from a speech given at the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy in June, Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, discusses how “[i]nnovations for the poor suffer from … market limitations” and his idea of “catalytic philanthropy.” Gates writes, “The market is not going to place huge bets on research when there are no buyers for a breakthrough. This explains why we have no vaccine for malaria today, even though a million people die from it every year.” Therefore, “when you come to the end of the innovations that business and government are willing to invest in, you still find a vast, unexplored space of innovation where the returns can be fantastic,” he continues. 

“The investor doesn’t need a share of the benefits — those go to poor people or sick people or society generally, all of whom stand to gain earth-shaking returns from the kind of innovations that business and government likely won’t pursue unless philanthropy goes first,” Gates writes, adding, “And once you’ve found a solution that works, catalytic philanthropy can harness political and market forces to get those innovations to the people who need them most.” He notes, “That has been our foundation’s approach in supporting research, manufacture and delivery of vaccines for childhood diseases.” Gates says “you do not need to be the chair of a large foundation to have an impact on the world,” and he concludes, “[W]hether your chief resource is volunteer time or hard-earned dollars, for a relatively small investment catalytic philanthropy can make a big impact” (9/18).