Read news about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Greenwall Foundation, and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. See descriptions of two policy jobs at health foundations. These tidbits recently came across my desk.

•The Greenwall Foundation’s website notes that effective January 1, 2012, its grant making “will focus solely on building and enriching the Greenwall Faculty Scholars Program in Bioethics.

So, if you were planning to submit some other kind of proposal to the foundation, make sure to read the application guidelines. Applications will no longer be accepted, for example, for the Greenwall Fellowship Program in Bioethics and Health Policy.

The foundation has a new president, too–watch for that announcement in the GrantWatch section of the February 2012 issue of Health Affairs, which will be released online February 6.

•Earlier this month the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky announced its new funding priorities for the next six years (2012–2017). It will now focus its work in just two areas (not five as before). One priority is Promoting Responsive Health Policy—“to make public policy more responsive to the health and health care needs of the people of Kentucky,” according to an e-alert.

Investing in Kentucky’s Future, the funder’s other priority, has to do with improving the health of children in the Bluegrass State by “promoting the development and expansion of comprehensive community-based initiatives, including school-based programs.”

Details are forthcoming on the two priorities.

Please note that this foundation does not accept unsolicited requests for grants, except for requests for matching funds and for funding conferences, seminars, and symposia that are related to the foundation’s mission and priorities and are conducted by nonprofits. Watch for its requests for proposals (RFPs) and requests for quotes.

Gates Foundation Is Focus of Hudson Institute Panel

The Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, along with Alliance magazine, co-hosted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on December 6, titled “Living with the Gates Foundation.” Moderated by Bill Schambra of the Hudson Institute and Tim Ogden of Philanthropy Action, the panel included Ogden, a guest editor of the September 2011 Alliance magazine issue focusing on the Gates Foundation; Laura Freschi of New York University’s Development Research Institute; Darin McKeever of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and Ed Skloot of Duke University. I listened to the two-hour webcast and found it fascinating—plenty of thoughtful comments. Here are just a few highlights.

Schambra opened the discussion by saying that the Gates Foundation “dominates the landscape of American philanthropy in a way that no single foundation has done since probably the earliest days of the Rockefeller Foundation at the turn of the twentieth century.”

NYU’s Freschi said that the Gates Foundation is more nimble, focused, and willing to take big risks and invest in research and development than other more traditional, international aid programs. Funding research and data collection will benefit the whole field, she noted. However, she raised questions about the foundation’s accountability, its bias for technological solutions, and its advocacy work. For example, she challenged the foundation to provide details of more failures it has encountered in its work and to do some “honest self-evaluation.” Perhaps those could be mentioned on its website, Freschi said.

Skloot senses that the philanthropy sector is concerned about the Gates Foundation. On the other hand, it may be the model that philanthropy has been seeking. Skloot listed the foundation’s seven strengths, in his view. For example, it has a huge amount of assets and funds in a focused and thematic way. Also, it is a “relentless advocate,” unlike other funders that pay grantees to do advocacy, he said. “Its political ear is always very close to the ground, both nationally and globally,” even locally when needed, Skloot said. He mentioned that Gates has 50–75 people working in Washington, D.C.

Skloot discussed the foundation’s use of media. He said that Bill Gates’s Annual Letter is instructive and informative, and the foundation has an active website. The founders of the foundation are “ubiquitous and savvy” and are publicly associated with the foundation’s work.

People may criticize the Gates Foundation for it, but Skloot noted that it collaborates at the highest levels—with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and with corporations. For example, the Gates Foundation has succeeded in “moving the marketplace,” Skloot said, so that certain vaccines become available at the right price and the right place for the poor.

However, he has concerns about the foundation in three areas: accountability, transparency, and collaboration and communication. On the third point, he mentioned that a Center for Effective Philanthropy survey has shown that the Gates Foundation is poorly understood by its grantees and partners. And the foundation has acknowledged that.

I surmised from the discussion that what makes some people look at the foundation carefully is the amount of money involved in its grant making and the power that may bring.

Darin McKeever of the Gates Foundation, who was a good sport throughout the discussion about his employer, commented that in his personal view, scrutiny and critical dialogue about even a good deed is useful because it can make “the next good deed better.” He also emphasized to the audience the personal belief of Bill and Melinda Gates that all lives have equal value, no matter where they are lived. McKeever explained that staffers at the foundation are not blind to the fact that it is big! He also said that it is putting much energy into building strong relationships with its grantees and other partners. It also is trying to stimulate “fresh thinking, critical feedback, and spirited dialogue.”

During the Q & A, McKeever said that he liked Skloot’s comment (before the event) that “sometimes ‘no’ is better than the indefinite ‘maybe’ when it comes to negotiating grants” with those applying for funding.

For more information, read the twenty-seven page Hudson Institute transcript on the event here.

Related resources:

Read the 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates on the foundation’s work during the past year. The content on polio; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and the foundation’s new headquarters in Seattle caught my eye.

Read correspondent Bill Weir’s blog post about his interview with Bill Gates, which aired on ABC Nightline on January 24. Some 75 percent of the Gates Foundation’s money is spent on the poorest countries in the world, the post notes. In this wide-ranging interview with Yahoo! and ABC News, “Gates scoffs at the idea that the money would be better spent at home,” Weir reports.

Two Health Policy Job Openings at Foundations

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, located in Louisville, is looking to hire a health policy officer. The person hired will have lead responsibility for its new policy initiative mentioned above. Experience with Kentucky state government is preferred. Read about the other qualifications needed, position description, and salary range, and apply here.

The Missouri Foundation for Health, located in St. Louis, seeks a health policy associate. A relevant master’s degree is preferred, as well as three-to-five years experience in a health-related organization or nonprofit. The job involves travel up to10 percent of the time. For more details, go to Hurry, the deadline for applying is January 31!