Spotlight Exclusives

Gates Foundation Announces Major New Anti-Poverty Investments

Spotlight Staff Spotlight Staff, posted on

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, known for its global work on healthcare and poverty, as well as efforts to improve education in the US, announced a major investment to address poverty and improve opportunity in America on Thursday. The foundation will commit $158 million over four years around these efforts.

The announcement coincided with a major event in Washington, DC for the Gates-funded US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty housed at the Urban Institute, an initiative that brought together 24 noted scholars and other stakeholders to explore new anti-poverty solutions. Gates funding in the coming years will be informed by the work of the partnership, and the event offered a look at some of the findings and recommendations developed over the partnership’s two years.

Nisha Patel, executive director of the partnership, began the event by highlighting their approach to understanding poverty issues: “An important part of our process is not just looking at the latest data and evidence…but learning from organizations on the ground in communities,” she explained. The event remained true to this theme, balancing new research with first-person testimonials from community voices.

David Ellwood, the chair of the partnership and a professor of political economy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said the scholars, researchers, and nonprofit leaders involved in the work were motivated by a unifed view: “We were united in believing that mobility is the issue of our time and if we get it wrong, we may be doomed.”

Panels at the event explored the partnership’s five interlocking strategies for reducing poverty and boosting opportunity:

  • Change the narrative on poverty and mobility
  • Create access to good jobs
  • Ensure zip code is not destiny
  • Provide support that empowers
  • Transform data use

The need for all players in the anti-poverty space to work in changing the often demeaning and destructive poverty narrative was given particular importance. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, argued that “poverty is not about lacking money. Poverty in America is about lacking a sense of dignity.”

john a. powell, director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, said that if policymakers and nonprofit leaders “don’t see people as human, [they] can’t design policy solutions that work.”

Raj Chetty, professor of economics Stanford University, discussed the use of big data to restore the American Dream in communities, highlighting his groundbreaking research on mobility within census tracks across the country. He explained how he and his colleagues are now working with the City of Seattle to ensure that housing vouchers are being used cost-effectively to move low-income residents to areas of the city that maximize their chances for economic success.

The event concluded with a discussion among foundation and private sector leaders on “moving ideas into action,” emphasizing an overall focus on concrete solutions and cross-sector collaborations that are at the heart of the partnership’s work and that will likely influence the Gates Foundation’s funding going forward.

Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellman closed the event to resounding applause with the announcement of the foundation’s new funding commitment, but emphasized that it will continue to learn and explore potential new solutions. The foundation wants to ensure that there are more foundations, nonprofits, and individuals “at all levels committed to increasing mobility from poverty over the next decade,” Desmond-Hellmann told reporters earlier in the morning.

“We want to invest in promising approaches to help workers who are in low-mobility jobs,” she said. “We also want to be able to increase the capacity of local actors, particularly governments, so that they can accurately diagnose and make data-driven decisions.”


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