Nachiket Mor, director, India Office, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), has bitten the bullet and, like philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, written an annual letter. Mor’s letter is not about superpowers, energy solutions and time saving that the couple spoke about in their Annual Letter 2016 on Gatenotes.com.
Just three months old in the organization, Mor has chosen, through this letter, to talk about some of the work that the BMGF has been doing in India in the past few years. “Bill and Melinda write differently. Besides, it’s a matter more of style and how we in India write versus how people outside write. As the new country director, it’s not as if I am planning to make any 180-degree turns,” he said.
Mor is clear that his task is to build on the work the Foundation has been doing and his letter is to make people aware of this body of work.
The letter touches upon three initiatives that BMGF is involved with and which Mor describes as having the desired impact: primary healthcare services for women and young children, tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment, and sanitation.
“My future plan is very much drawn from the history of the work here (BMGF India). Clearly, there will be some aspects that we will tighten and sharpen a little, but that will be less because of me, but more on what the emerging opportunity is and where we think the country will benefit the most,” said Mor, explaining why his letter is less about future goals and strategies and more focused on showcasing the work that BMGF has been doing even before he came on board.
Before joining the Foundation full-time, Mor was a part-time senior fellow at the Foundation’s India Office. A Yale World Fellow, he had previously worked for ICICI Bank from 1987 to 2007 and is a member of the Himachal Pradesh health commission and the Primary Care Task Force of the government of India.
One of the things that Mor said he has been enjoying in his new role is the unfettered access to the most knowledgeable people in the business. “The world’s best people are a phone call away, and this is new for me. Almost anybody you name, we are able to interact with, talk to. Also, this Foundation, given its resources and aspirations, is willing to take longer term, higher risks and add innovation,” he said.
One key area which has been a point of conversation in India in the past two years is Swachh Bharat, and Mor’s letter mentions it under the sanitation head. He talks about the core idea of reinventing the toilet and looking at new ways of safely disposing of human waste.
There is a lot of interest in the government in the idea that cities should no longer build centralized sewage systems and relook at traditional ways of disposing of faecal matter.
“These are outdated and not cost-effective. Most cities in India and, in fact, all over the world don’t have the resources any more to handle fecal sludge in the traditional way. Technology has progressed to allow you to reprocess sludge much faster. We have some pilots in Trichy and Bengaluru and wherever we go, this is the first thing governments pick up on,” Mor explained.
Despite the stated big thrust on financial inclusion by the BMGF and even Melinda Gates, Mor’s letter does not really touch upon plans or work in this space, which was a surprise considering his background as a banker.
“The hat that I was wearing when I joined the Foundation was the healthcare hat. In the last 10 years, I have done no work in financial inclusion. All of my work has been in healthcare. My persona is that of someone who works in two areas—I have worked on the ground in primary healthcare and health systems design. However, financial inclusion is an important part of our work and as country director very much a part of my remit. If you ask me why it did not make it to my letter, it just so happens that the three areas I talk about, we at the Foundation felt had more value. In financial inclusion space, there has been a lot of conversation and work is going on… but for it to be something to talk about we need more time. Maybe next year’s letter will talk about it,” he said.