By Todd Pierce, Chief Digital Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
As chief digital officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I believe it’s time to bring philanthropy into the digital age. The need is critical; the time is now. Those of us in philanthropy have a historic opportunity to solve problems standing in the way of organizations like ours to help many people and save many lives.
Last year, the United Nations adopted a set of goals to end extreme poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all, as part of a new sustainable development agenda for 2030. By some estimates it will take $3 trillion (U.S.) a year to achieve these goals. And without private sector involvement, they cannot be achieved.
My private sector experience tells me that technology can help unlock this. I want to enlist everyone I can in this cause.
Here’s why I care so much: I’m alive today because of high-quality healthcare. Twice, as a child, my life was saved by doctors. Too many children around the world don’t have that. That has to change.
At the Gates Foundation we believe that all lives have equal value. Yet people lack equal access to life-saving healthcare and services. We don’t choose where we’re born, and too few people have the chance to reach their potential.
Things are getting better. The mortality rate for children under age 5 declined 49 percent between 1990 and 2013. Access to better maternal care, childhood vaccinations and health interventions have contributed to that reduction.
It’s a privilege to help reduce that devastating statistic. But there’s still work to be done in this area as well as many others. I believe it’s a moral imperative to provide the tools and information that will improve people’s lives. Digital technologies play a key role in making this happen.
What I propose is that, we embark on a journey together —to build a Digital Foundation Partnership.
Here’s why the time is now.
We are at an historic moment in technology. Cloud and analytics means we can spend less time implementing and more time benefitting. Sensors collect connected data everywhere. And most of all, mobile phones have billions of people connecting, sharing and working wherever they are.
This digital revolution can unlock unbelievable new insights and opportunity. For that to happen, the system has to work for everyone. Nonprofits need to support to get digitized so they can process grants and awards faster. Suppliers need a functional marketplace that justifies the cost of doing business. And the customers — the people who need this help the most — need services they can access and afford. Let’s work together to make this a reality.
It is possible, and I believe it will happen. But we’re not there yet. So how do we do it?
We ACT together: Amplify, Connect and Transact.
Amplify means unleashing the amazing ability of people to solve problems, multiplying the impact of giving and engaging others in the cause. Connect means breaking down barriers that hold back the poorest among us from accessing the information and support they need. This is particularly important for women and girls. And fundamentally, we must focus on how we Transact, reducing friction in philanthropic investment, making markets work for the world’s poorest people. We’ll be faster, more transparent and more effective than ever.
These big ambitions require big systems changes. We’re looking to partner with technology providers to change the business model, and make it easier and faster for non-profits to reach those in need. For example, with DocuSign we are piloting ways their tools can change our processes, eliminating the paperwork of grant-making — and cutting weeks or months from aid delivery.
PATH is a leader in global health innovation that focuses on saving the lives of women and children. Each year, they touch more than 200 million lives through medical technology, vaccines and intervention efforts. They could do more. They want to do more. But how? By shifting to digital signatures.
Since they started using DocuSign, PATH has been able to speed up the procurement process by as much as a week and save $19.65 per transaction. Meaning more lives saved with one simple process change.
We’re just getting started. These efforts are just in the pilot phase now but we hope that by taking the first steps, others in our sector can benefit from what we learn. We ultimately envision a single philanthropy platform to hold and manage relevant giving data from investments made to impact. We want a stack of apps and services for all nonprofits to use as a standardized, connected system.
In coming days, I’ll be calling on investors to say we need your financial support to help nonprofits connect with technology. I’ll be calling on technologists and entrepreneurs, because we need your big ideas to improve how we transact. Today, I started that call at DocuSign Momentum.
I’m asking for everyone’s help to build the #philanthropycloud. Post on Twitter that you are on board, or send email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to show your support.
We will all contribute different levels of support — what matters is that we ACT together.