Together as one

Hands holding plant Hands holding plant

According to English poet John Donne in 1624, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”

Swap the word ‘man’ for ‘human’ or ‘organisation’ and this is the philosophy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a powerful philanthropic group that seeks to reduce inequity in the world.

With the goal of bringing about the kinds of changes that will help people live healthier and more productive lives, the foundation does all its work in collaboration with grantees and other partners, who join with them in “taking risks, pushing for new solutions, and harnessing the transformative power of science and technology”.

Similarly, swap John Donne’s ‘man’ for ‘university’ and the same principle applies to The University of Queensland. When discussing UQ’s new Strategic Plan 2018–2021 recently, Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said that UQ is “an institution determined to anticipate change and adapt to whatever challenges such change presents” and that we “need to accelerate delivery of globally relevant solutions to complex problems – something that will require even more collaboration than currently exists”.

In other words, we can achieve more for the world if we work together.

Fortunately, the foundation and the University are as one on this. Working together on a range of projects to help the world’s disadvantaged, the University has been the grateful recipient of more than US$13 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2009.

All lives have equal value

To enable its vision that all lives have equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has four key missions.

1. Ensure more children and young people survive and thrive. 

The foundation believes that the path out of poverty begins when the next generation can access quality healthcare and a great education. In developing countries, its focus is on improving people’s health and wellbeing, helping individuals lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. 

2. Empower the poorest, especially women and girls, to transform their lives.

To achieve this mission, the foundation believes that by giving people the tools they need to lead healthy, productive lives, people can help lift themselves out of poverty, for example, by adopting new farming technologies, investing in new business opportunities, or finding new jobs – particularly for women.

3. Combat infectious diseases that particularly affect the poorest.

To enable this mission, the foundation believes that lives can be saved by delivering the latest in science and technology to those with the greatest needs. The foundation works with partners to provide effective vaccines, drugs and diagnostics, and to develop innovative approaches to deliver health services to those who need it most.        

UQ has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct research in each of these three key areas and looks forward to continuing this mutually beneficial partnership. 

4. Inspire people to take action to change the world.

Again, ‘together as one’, The University of Queensland has a bold ambition to ‘create change’, while the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s fourth mission recognises that for people to be inspired to change the world, more than just financial resources are required. Partnering with governments and the public and private sectors, the foundation works to change public policies, attitudes and behaviours to improve lives and foster greater public awareness of urgent global issues. 

As does UQ.

Breathing easier

Boy coughing Boy coughing

Boy coughing near mobile phone with ResApp Health application to determine the type of illness (photo supplied by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne).

Boy coughing near mobile phone with ResApp Health application to determine the type of illness (photo supplied by Associate Professor Udantha Abeyratne).

Initially funded by a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges in Global Health Explorations grant, a UQ research project has culminated in a spin-off company that currently has a market capitalisation of about $100 million. Using mathematical algorithms, ResApp Health has developed a diagnostic tool that uses smartphone technology to instantly identify respiratory diseases – just by listening to a person’s cough. The technology has broad application across the world, particularly in economically poor, geographically remote regions where access to healthcare facilities is scarce or non-existent.

Food for the future

Sorghum landscape Sorghum landscape

QAAFI's Professor David Jordan in sorghum field (photo supplied by QAAFI).

QAAFI's Professor David Jordan in sorghum field (photo supplied by QAAFI).

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) has received several grants to boost food and nutrition security. At present, UQ scientists are implementing the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Breeding Program Analysis Tool (BPAT) across key public sector plant-breeding programs in Africa and Asia – for sorghum, rice, maize, wheat, cowpea, chickpea, common bean, groundnut, yam, sweet potato, cassava and banana – to identify how improved breeding programs can lead to greater genetic gains and on-farm profitability.

Sophisticated sorghum

Sorghum plant with hand Sorghum plant with hand

Sorghum plant (photo supplied by QAAFI).

Sorghum plant (photo supplied by QAAFI).

In another project, which aims to increase the productivity of sorghum breeding programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and other water-limited environments, UQ researchers are using sophisticated computer modelling to enable the rapid development of new varieties that are as water-efficient as possible.

And yet another project sees Queensland scientists tackling one of the world’s worst threats to banana crops – bunchy top disease – by identifying accessions of wild species of seeded bananas with natural resistance to the bunchy top virus.

Learn more about UQ's QAAFI and their work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or help support food for the future by making a  donation to QAAFI today.

Opening photo: Getty Images/PeopleImages.