Achieving impact together: harmony in thought, speech and action


Lucia Cote

In our work at the Gates Foundation, we are in constant contact with grantees and vendors. We all experience a great sense of urgency given the magnitude of our work, which often leaves little time to pause and reflect on the quality of our interactions with our partners, whom we rely upon for achievement of impact. In the past, we haven’t always asked for specific feedback regarding our approach, processes or even grantee experience – and assumed that if there were a problem, we would know.

Gary Darmstadt

We are working to change that!

It’s imperative to our work that we make time for regular, open and honest communication between the foundation and our partners, all in service, ultimately, to the pressing matters at hand.

We have been brainstorming internally and have some promising ideas in the works to encourage open dialogue and to improve the quality of interactions on a day-to-day basis. However, it’s time to take a step back and hear from you. We want to ensure that all external partners working with the foundation feel comfortable enough to share their experience personally with their program coordinator, program officer and even the division director.

What forum makes you most comfortable to share feedback? Is it a personal email or phone call, or an anonymous survey site, such as SurveyMonkey®? Does it depend on the type of feedback and your relationship with the foundation? These are all important questions we ask when contemplating our complex working relationships. It always leaves us wondering if we’re getting the most honest responses.

It’s imperative to our work that we make time for regular, open and honest communication – all in service, ultimately, to the pressing matters at hand.

In response to feedback from grantees, partners and vendors, the foundation as a whole has created an initiative to be more engaging and transparent. Within the Family Health division, we have changed some of our internal procedures to enhance our communications with partners – from guaranteeing an orientation call for new grantees and vendors and sending a welcome letter with relevant contact information, to hosting grantee trainings and creating a dialogue around expectations of engagement level with your project. We aim to empower our partners as much as possible.

Have you noticed these changes? We recognize that the foundation wields a lot of power, responsibility, and influence – are we getting your most honest and insightful responses? And if not, why?

One of our commitments is to create a feedback loop, rather than a one-way communications channel. We experimented with this in the Family Health Checkup blog series and the #FHChat discussions, providing lots of opportunity for networking and conversation online, and found the engagement refreshing and enlightening. Did you participate in either the blog series or the Twitter chat? Do these formats work for you?

MC Escher’s ‘Drawing Hands’ image is a continuous loop with no distinguishable beginning or end. It’s a powerful metaphor for our interdependence in striving to achieve impact together. We should feel comfortable enough to continually share our experiences, knowing that it will only improve future interactions and experiences for others.

The question we have then, is how do we find the natural points for sharing ideas, both critical and complementary?

We want to hear your pain points and brainstorm together. There are many steps we can take that could improve our partner relationships and ensure we do our best work. However, if we remain too internally focused without direct and honest feedback, it is impossible to implement real and effective change. Simply put, we cannot do it without you.

We welcome your comments, or you can provide anonymous feedback on the foundation website if that’s the most comfortable method for you.

I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote: ‘Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.’ The Family Health team is committed to increasing quality interactions, engaging in clear and consistent communications, and continuing to solicit your feedback in service to improving the health and lives of the millions of people around the world.

Lucia Cote is a program coordinator within the Family Health division, and Gary Darmstadt leads the Family Health division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This article was first published on the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists blog.

Tagged in: communication Grantee relationships Impact Transparency

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