Gates, Bloomberg Dominate List of Most Promising 'Big Bets' in 2015

The Bridgespan Group, in partnership with Forbes, has released a top-ten list of the largest, most promising philanthropic commitments made in 2015 to address social issues in the United States and around the globe.

Ranked first on the list of philanthropic "big bets for social change" — defined as gifts of at least $25 million aimed at solving a single large-scale social problem — was the $1.55 billion over five years pledged by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance in support of efforts to deliver life-saving vaccines to children in the poorest countries. The foundation also tied for second with its $120 million commitment to Family Planning 2020 to provide an additional 120 million women and girls with access to effective contraception by 2020. Tying Gates for second was Bloomberg Philanthropies' $30 million pledge to the Sierra Club in support of its Beyond Coal campaign, which seeks to retire 50 percent of the nation's coal-fired power plants by 2017. Another Bloomberg gift, $42 million to What Works Cities to help a hundred midsize cities use data more effectively, was ranked sixth.

To compile its list, Bridgespan looked at fifty-eight pledges of $25 million or more for social change announced in 2015 and selected the thirty most promising, then asked ten outside experts to rank that group based on six measures — ambition, clarity of desired results, clarity of philanthropy's role in moving the needle, logical and realistic strategy, extent to which learning and improvement are built into the grant, and strength of the relationship between the donor and recipient organization. In addition, funders were limited to two rankings in the top ten; otherwise, Gates and Bloomberg would have secured additional spots on the list.

Rounding out the top ten were gifts totaling $50 million from Donald E. Graham and the Pershing Square Foundation to TheDream.us; $40 million from David and Dana Dornsife to World Vision; $75 million from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to the Safety and Justice Challenge; $50 million from the Lilly Endowment to the United Negro College Fund for UNCF's Career Pathways Initiative; $75 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to Smart Power for Rural Development; and $34 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to the ClimateWorks Foundation.

"We have attempted to identify a subset of big bets that are truly exceptional when reviewed against [the six criteria]," said William Foster, a Bridgespan partner and lead researcher. "These investments are strengthening the bedrock of civil society."