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Looking for the Helpers During Economic Meltdown: Bill Gates and The Gates Foundation

4 min read
Apr 14, 2020

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’.”

That quote is from the late Fred Rogers, the iconic host of the child-friendly educational TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While it was intended to offer comfort to children, it’s something that can serve all of us well right now.

Pandemic. Job loses. Isolation. Economic collapse.

Enter Mister Rogers. 

As COVID-19 sweeps over the world, it’s easy to be scared, worried, depressed, or otherwise stressed out and not your normal self. Watching the news provides important information about the state of the world and gives critical updates from the government and the World Health Organization. However, watching the news is also difficult at the moment, to say the least.

So I’ve been looking for the helpers. Of course, they’re easy to find in our healthcare workers, delivery drivers, postal service employees, and grocery store clerks. Employees in those fields have stepped up in a way that soothes the soul and offers faith and optimism in humanity. They’re true heroes.

It’s happening in the business world, too. This week, I’ll be looking at a few of those people, both well known and not, that are making important contributions.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his foundation, The Gates Foundation, are funding factories that will eventually help manufacture a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Seven different factories are being built, matching the number of hopeful vaccines being developed around the world. 

In an at-home interview with Trevor Noah, Gates said “Because our foundation has such deep expertise in infectious diseases, we’ve thought about the epidemic, we did fund some things to be more prepared, like a vaccine effort,” Gates said. “Our early money can accelerate things.”

Whichever vaccine emerges, it’s likely that it will require unique and specialized equipment to be manufactured on a wide scale. So, it’s likely that, at most, only two of those facilities will be used for their intended purpose, possibly wasting billions of dollars. Gates says it’s worth it.

“Even though we’ll end up picking at most two of them, we’re going to fund factories for all seven, just so that we don’t waste time in serially saying, ‘OK, which vaccine works?’ and then building the factory.”

Gates and his foundation first responded to the worldwide pandemic months ago. In early March, the foundation promised $100 million to assist in identifying, developing, and treating the virus. As far back as 2015, Gates cautioned world leaders to be aware and ready for a possible virus outbreak in a TED Talk. His advice was to plan for it in the same way they prepare for war.

In a recent interview with NPR, Gates said that he expected multiple industries, including manufacturing and construction, could resume to some form of operations sometime in the not-so-distant future. He also offered hope for preventing future viral outbreaks of such a degree that we’re seeing now. 

“We should make sure that we have those platforms (diagnostics, therapeutics, vaccination) ready to go. And the science is such that's very doable, and so we won't have to see this as something that's coming again and again and again,” he said.

Vaccine identification and development are not new priorities for Gates. It’s one of the main areas of focus for The Gates Foundation, which was established in 2000. On their website, the foundation describes its strategy, in part, by saying, “We invest in expertise and platform technologies that help us make vaccines faster, better, and cheaper. We also invest in education and training to ensure that knowledge around vaccine development and manufacturing is created, shared, and retained.”

The foundation is said to be the largest private foundation in the world with nearly $50 billion in assets. Its main priorities on a global level include improving healthcare and reducing extreme poverty. Along with Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet is the other trustee that has overseen the giving of $50 billion in grants since its inception.