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Record $279M gift from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to UW

Support furthers health studies and Seattle’s identity for philanthropy

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A record $279M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to UW’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) aims to improve the health around the planet by tracking and measuring diseases, injuries, and risks. Not a small task, which is why it requires a big gift.

The Gates Foundation is known for quantitative philanthropy. They don’t just throw money at problems. They research, study, measure, and decide. While that seems like an obvious approach, it is too rare in governments around the globe. A simple and key insight is simply looking at IHME’s web address, healthdata.org, health and data. They do the work on over 380 issues using over 2,000 collaborators distributed over 130 nations.

The majority of the work is happening everywhere else. UW and IHME are the hub. At the hub, they track the work, but also the innovations. Health is not static. Keeping track of people, diseases, and advances is a constant dance. To keep the hub, IHME, operating takes about 300 people, instead of the three from nine years ago.

The number of people, and therefore jobs, in the area may seem like a small impact for the area, regardless of the large impact globally; but the area’s tech community built from similarly small beginnings. Now, the tech world sees Seattle as a hub. Biotech is busy here. Philanthropy and global initiatives are gaining exposure as well.

This may be the record gift for the UW from the Gates, but they have awarded UW over $1.25B in this and hundreds of much smaller grants. Such investments have effects that ripple beyond their original intent and goal. This probably isn’t the last such philanthropic act, and may inspire others to act similarly.

It certainly won’t drive down housing prices in the U District, and may help a few folks find living here more affordable, too.