VOLUME 28 NO. 8 | FEBRUARY 14 - 20, 2009


Gates Foundation says no to infectious disease and hunger

Last updated 2-12-09 at 9:56 a.m.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is known for employing many talented Asian American women to be in charge of diverse, global responsibilities. Many of them are shown here in a stock file photo from 2008 taken at the Foundation in June 2008. NWAW 2008 stock file photo by George Liu.

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

The current economic downturn hurts charitable foundations as well as the general public. That hasn’t stopped one world-famous Seattle foundation from supporting projects to improve and, in many cases, save the lives of millions in Asia and other parts of the world.

Martha Choe, chief administrative officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the foundation’s global health office in China focuses primarily
on HIV/AIDS.

She talked about her career and the foundation at a Feb. 6 luncheon organized by the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce. More than 80 people gathered at the Ocean City Restaurant for her appearance.

“We have a great collaboration with the minister of health in China,” said Choe, a former Seattle City Councilmember who joined the foundation in 2004 and now oversees its Information Technology, Human Resources, Security, and Site Operations teams. “We’ve been alarmed at the growth of HIV/AIDS infection, and so we actually have several government officials from the ministry of health working inside our office.”

“We have a presence in India, again focused on HIV/AIDS,” she added.

She said the foundation expects to provide $3.6 billion in support of programs aimed at global health, global development, and the United States.

The nation’s largest philanthropic organization announced last month that it would increase its donations — despite a 20 percent decrease in the value of its assets — from 5 percent to 7 percent of its assets in 2009. Its endowment totals $35.1 billion.

In his first annual letter, foundation co-chair Bill Gates said, “I believe that the wealthy have a responsibility to invest in addressing inequity. This is especially true when the constraints on others are so great.” If such investments aren’t made, “we will come out of the economic downturn in a world even more unequal, with greater inequities in health and education, and fewer opportunities for people to improve their lives,” he added.

Last month, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it is working with the foundation to support a program aimed at helping 6 million small farmers in South Asia — home to about 40 percent of the world’s poor — increase their grain production (mostly rice) — over the next 10 years.

The Cereals Systems Initiative for South Asia’s (CSISA) goal is to help the farmers produce at least 5 million more tons of rice per year to help reduce the region’s malnutrition and hunger.

CSISA also hopes to boost their incomes by getting their rice to the market more efficiently. The organization will help them develop new high-yielding, stress tolerant rice, improve resource management practices, and maintain better information technology.

Another goal includes growing more food using less fertilizer, water, and energy.

The funding includes almost $19.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $15 million from USAID. It will be led by the International Rice Research Institute and include partners in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Choe mentioned agricultural research was being done by scientists in China. She said, “It was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, and what China did was to learn how to use breeding techniques to increase the nutrients and the productivity of rice and other grains. That’s a technology, a science that can be exported. It would have to be fashioned around local conditions, local soils, but there’s tremendous knowledge there.”

She said the investment in agricultural productivity by the Chinese government has created results worth a second look.

“One of the things we’re doing is to work with those scientists in China to see if we can bring their expertise to Africa,” said Choe.

“If you look at the pattern of development around the globe, there is no example of a country that has lifted substantial numbers of people out of extreme poverty without first addressing agricultural productivity,” she said.
When asked why there are so many Asian American women at the Gates Foundation, Choe said that it was “about talent” and the mutual belief that everyone’s life has equal value — which is the mission of the Foundation. (end)

For more information about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, visit www.gatesfoundation.org.

James Tabafunda can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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