PATH Wins $1.5M Hilton Prize, World’s Biggest Award for Humanitarian Work

8/18/09Follow @xconomy

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player because it didn’t have an office there. So it took a small amount of discretionary seed cash, enlisted an experienced person from an office in Eastern Africa, opened a small office, and set up some pilot projects. Now the South Africa office has a staff of 30 to 40 people, and is fully funded by U.S. government and other grants.

Most of PATH’s budget comes from foundations like the Gates Foundation and government agencies, leaving less than 4 percent of its annual budget for unrestricted, flexible spending like that for the office in South Africa, Elias said at the press conference. He plans to steer the Hilton Prize cash into a larger, five-year, $25 million fundraising effort to support more of these types of flexible uses. Over time, he’d like PATH to spend 5 to 10 percent of its annual budget on that type of spending, to support new product development, and geographic expansion that can make an impact.

The atmosphere in today’s press conference was so merry, with a few dozen PATH employees present, that when a Hilton Foundation official cracked a corny joke about PATH “being on the right path,” a lot of people burst out laughing. But Elias pointed out that the recognition is valuable to the PATH employees, who probably could use a morale boost when tackling some things that appear intractable, like health problems that come from unclean water.

One questioner, who asked Elias about how he measures success, got a highly wonky, nuanced answer from PATH’s president about how each project is graded differently—from the distribution of mosquito bed nets, to harder things like developing a cutting edge malaria vaccine. But Bill Gates Sr.—who beamed with pride at the the recognition for one of the Foundation’s largest grantees—jumped in on that question and reminded everyone that evaluating success is easy, and the job isn’t done.

“We start with these horrific numbers, the numbers of people who die prematurely,” Gates said. “Will you change those numbers? We are changing them. The data will be specific, quantifiable, and I think, rewarding.”

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  • Mindy

    Thanks for writing about these very important issues. Another great piece.

  • Valerie Hansen

    I always find your articles interesting and significant and elegantly written. This time the quote from Bill Gates brought a lump to my throat.