Gates gives $20 million to Hopkins

Microsoft founder funds plan to fight population growth

May 26, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

A $20 million gift from the foundation of computer mogul Bill Gates will fund an institute on population and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health, Hopkins officials announced yesterday.

The institute, which will be named for Microsoft Corp. founder Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, will focus on educating health officials in the developing world about population concerns.

"The focus of the institute will be to create more capacity to deal with these issues in developing countries," said Laura Schwab Zabin, a professor of population and family health sciences at Hopkins who has been working in this area using money given by Gates two years ago.

"The goal is to improve the capacity in these countries to deliver the entire range of reproductive health services, helping them manage their population growth at the same time as they improve the health of women and children," she said.

Trevor Neilson, spokesman for the Gateses' Seattle-based foundation, said international health issues are one of the main interests of the Gateses and Bill Gates' father, William Gates Jr., a Seattle lawyer who is also involved in the foundation.

"They are essentially concerned with providing access to the benefits of modern medicine to people around the world, including to contraceptives for people who desire them," Neilson said. "And Johns Hopkins certainly has a stellar reputation in the area of international public health."

The gift, equal to the third-largest the university has received, pushes the Hopkins fund-raising campaign beyond its goal of $1.2 billion, a year before its conclusion.

"It's a nice gift," said Michael Bloomberg, chairman of Hopkins' board of trustees, who gave the university its biggest gift -- $100 million.

"Bill, like myself, has been very lucky and he has indicated he feels an obligation to give back to society," Bloomberg said. "My expectation is over a period of time you will see Bill and his wife give to a lot of worthwhile causes."

Gates, whose stock in Microsoft was recently valued at over $82 billion, is thought to be the richest man in the world. Bloomberg, who made his fortune with a financial news operation, has an estimated worth of between $1 and $2 billion.

"We are obviously very pleased about making the $1.2 billion goal with a gift like this," said Robert R. Lindgren, Hopkins' vice president for development. "We have another year left to make our goals in some specific areas, such as support for student financial aid and building the overall endowment."

The $20 million gift follows a $2.25 million donation Gates gave the school of public health in 1997. Neilson described the 1997 money as "a prelude to the current gift," indicating that the Gateses' approval of how it has been spent led to the larger donation.

"We are especially pleased that after only two years, the Gateses chose to support this program further," public health school Dean Alfred Sommer said. "What is special about a gift like this is that unlike a government grant, which funds a very specific program, this allows us to develop four or five programs, a comprehensive approach to the problem.

"It's innovative money that allows for innovative solutions," Sommer said.

Sommer said the original $2.5 million was supposed to last for five years, spent at a rate of about $350,000 a year. Instead, the remainder of that money -- $1.4 million -- will be spent next year, with the new grant funding the institute for four years at $5 million a year.

"We are going to ramp up quickly because the demand has been overwhelming," he said.

Using the original grant, Zabin established a series of training and research programs for medical personnel from the developing world.

"Instead of shipping out family planning programs, the idea is to give these countries the capacity to create their own programs," Zabin said.

Zabin said some of the money was used last year for a two-week seminar on health and reproductive issues for 18 people from around the world. She said Hopkins immediately received requests to conduct similar seminars in the Philippines and China.

"We have another seminar planned here for July and have 150 applications for 20 spaces," she said, indicating that the new gift will, among other things, allow an expansion of those programs.

The funds will also be used for fellowships for Third World health professionals pursuing advanced degrees at the School of Hygiene and Public Health as well as other shorter educational programs.

"The minister of health of a country will most likely not be able to come over for a four-year degree program," Zabin said. "But he might be able to come over for four weeks."

Zabin said she has consulted on the program, and the gift, with Melinda Gates and, more often, with William Gates Jr., who has a long-standing interest in overpopulation. Zabin said she served with Gates Jr. on the national board of Planned Parenthood in the 1970s.

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