Africa: Gates Foundation Changes Focus to ‘Last Mile’ of Delivery

Thursday, June 18, 2015

AllAfrica’s Juanita Williams andMelissa Britzinterviewed Dr Ayo Ajayi, the director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Africa Team, about the foundation’s new approach to working with the continent.


On why the foundation has changed the nature of its engagement with Africa:

The change was needed because the foundation has spent several years mostly on the assumption that if you develop innovations and provide resources, you can actually have an impact. But when the foundation stepped back to look at its impact in the places where it really thought it was most important, it wasn’t commensurate with the level of effort that had been put into it. And what was missing was that the foundation had underestimated what was needed to get the innovations and the technologies to where they are most needed, what we call the last mile.

The connection between availability of resources and the availability of technologies, and their actual use to change lives on the ground needed a bridge. And that bridge is what the foundation is seeking to provide by a presence on the continent, particularly close enough to the people who are most involved with making the development efforts really matter – that’s the government, civil society and a lot of the partners that we work with. It’s just more effective when you’re on the ground which is why decided to have a presence in Africa.

On the foundation’s priorities in Africa:

The foundation works in more than 45 countries. We prioritise a few of them. We encourage governments and civil society to prioritise areas, because you can’t do it otherwise. The foundation prioritized its presence on the continent, so we have three areas where we particularly feel that our assistance can make a big difference. So we have offices in Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, and Abuja.

In addition to those, we also have full-time consultants who work for the foundation in seven other countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and more recently, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). These are the geographies where we feel that if we can get our assistance much closer to the ground, we can interact with partners and with governments. When we understand their priorities, we can be much better aligned, and be much more effective in our development assistance to them.

The plan is to be as close as possible so that the strategies used, the advice and resources we give them, can be much more effective. The foundation as you know is focused on impact and impact measurement. If you can’t measure it you probably can’t figure out what’s happening. So we try to make our impact measurable. We think being closer will make it easier for us to do that.

On the importance of innovation:

I think the foundation, first and foremost, prides innovation as one of its hallmarks. The foundation’s initial focus in its earlier years was on upstream development technologies, that will be applicable to health and agriculture, and we’re still very focused on that. But it’s important to recognise that for those technologies to have an impact on people, you have to bridge the delivery gap.

Source: allAfrica (link opens in a new window)

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