Bill Gates currently leads one of the most successful and far-reaching humanitarian organizations. Despite constant criticism on his attempts to maximize investments, Bill Gates’ focus on ‘Why Measurement Matters’ in his 2013 Letter may be the perfect question to “help drive global change”.
Every year Bill Gates writes a letter on behalf of his and his wife Melinda’s foundation. Inspiring stories, powerful words, and optimism fill up several pages along with photos of villagers. This year however, Mr. Gates sounded more similar to a business consultant than a humanitarian. His campaign “Why Does Measurement Matter” discusses the need to think in the most basic terms: quality over quantity. Instead of asking governments to increase their funding for foreign aid, organizations must begin training their volunteers and workers to begin thinking like business owners. Collecting data, mapping progress, accepting failures, and brainstorming for solutions all need to be incorporated into the daily tasks for health clinics, schools, and centers around the world.
Mr. Gates illustrates that keeping records, enforcing strict organization, and creating a comfortable environment for workers are key to ensuring the effectiveness of a non-profit humanitarian organization. In a business, financial analysts track the rising and falling of stock prices over decades; marketing directors report successful or failing advertisement techniques; CEOs receive reports on company losses and gains. These techniques must become commonplace within humanitarian organizations not only to ensure their donors that their money is being put to good use, but be able to guarantee successful projects.
But does mimicking a business model go against the basic purpose of a non-profit? A business’ goal is to make profit while an NPO or NGO focuses on increasing the well-being of individuals or a community. So then why do most people automatically associate the word ‘profit’ with money? Business models work for for-profit companies not only because they are designed specifically to help increase the company’s sales and worth but because they incorporate common sense and basic administrative work to achieve set goals.
One of the examples in Bill Gates 2013 Annual Letter of how new measuring techniques can bring about efficiency is the increase of children’s immunization in Ethiopia. Even with health clinics spread out in the most rural areas, accurate record keeping of birth certificates and simple organization helps clinic workers collect a significant amount of data. These records identify which areas need focus, as well as mapping the appearance and disappearance of diseases.
Bill Gates does not suggest a dramatic increase in funding or introduce expensive materials. He does not suggest holding conferences with major donor countries or criticizing local organizations for failing to meet their goals. The simple solution comes down to “quality monitoring…setting clear goals, picking the right approach, and then measuring the results to get feedback”. Yet as simple as this approach may be to a business manager, this solution is much harder to achieve naturally in poorer countries. Heads of organizations must create a work environment in which volunteers and employees will feel comfortable reporting negative results. Therefore, it is important understand the necessity of not cutting corners when taking down vital information of patients who come into the clinics.
Through simple and realistic propositions, Bill Gates 2013 Annual Letter offers: a focused resolution for revitalizing humanitarian organizations, to debunk the myth that foreign aid is a waste, and to encourage organizations around the globe that defeating extreme poverty, child mortality, and the spread of diseases is an obtainable goal.
– Deena Dulgerian