Checking in with the bold, global vision of the UW

By Joy Portella, President, Minerva Strategies—

Intellectual Ventures CEO and famed patent holder Nathan Myhrvold recently proclaimed to Geekwire that, “Seattle is absolutely the Silicon Valley of saving the world.”

That’s a bold claim. Some might call it hyperbole. But in a world where fact-checking is a dying industry and fake news can tip presidential elections, let’s call it fact.

Just kidding. Let’s back it up and have a gander at the evidence:

—Seattle is home to global health and development giants like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, and World Vision (down the road in Federal Way).

—Today I woke up to news that Tableau, a Seattle-based data software company, had won the Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s “company of the year” award for its commitment to corporate social responsibility, including its exceptional work to advance data for health and development.

—A coalition of scientists and health experts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH, Malaria No More, the University of Washington, Pilgrim Africa, and more – all Seattle-based organizations – are at the forefront of efforts to eradicate malaria.

—Earlier this year, the New York Times took notice of Seattle’s achievements in global health, noting that the region is “spawning a new ecosystem of global health care companies, research institutes, and academic expertise…”

Inevitably when you talk about Seattle’s global goodness, all roads lead back to one institution: The University of Washington. And the UW’s goodness quotient just got seriously amped up.

In October, the UW announced that it had received a $210 million grant from the Gates Foundation – one of the largest single gifts in the university’s history – to boost its nascent Population Health Initiative. The initiative, launched this past May, is a 25-year effort that aims to improve human health locally and around the world. It will go beyond looking at medical progress, and consider a diverse range of factors that impact health such as poverty, climate change, and government policies.

That’s a big vision, and for now, it’s a vague one. The list of first-round projects and an action plan won’t be announced until early 2017.

But the Gates Foundation grant will fund something concrete: a building. And not just any building. This facility will bring together the burgeoning data powerhouse the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME – a long-time Minerva Strategies client) with the dynamic Department of Global Health and parts of the School of Public Health – all entities that have been scattered in different spots. The University hopes that the result will be more than a physical structure; they’re looking to kickstart a hub of population health collaboration.

The Gates Foundation grant will provide an amazing boost, and UW leadership is buoyed by the new Initiative. President Ana Mari Cauce’s words this past spring sound strikingly like Nathan Myhrvold’s: “The University of Washington, the Puget Sound Region, and our state can lead the world in improving population health. And it’s time for us to take up that mantle – together.”

Note to Harvard and Johns Hopkins: Check out your rearview health mirrors. I see Dawgs coming up fast.