History

A center of excellence and advancement in the field of family planning, reproductive health and population dynamics, the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health conducts and facilitates cutting-edge research and translates science into action. The Institute is located within the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The Gates Institute was started in 1999 under the direction of Dr. Laurie Zabin with the mission of Scholarship and Science for Social Change, which still remains as the Institute tag line. The Institute recognized the need to develop institutional capacity in developing countries to strengthen and maintain powerful family planning and reproductive health programs and research efforts.

The Gates Institute (GI) has trained more than 850 fellows, scholars, and visiting scholars from over 30 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America in Strategic Leadership and research methodologies. In its early days and at its core, Strategic Leadership was essential in helping developing country leaders, including Parliamentarians and Traditional Leaders to refocus on households as key producers of health.

A Strategic Leadership course was taught to challenge the mental models or the preconceived ideas of who truly produces health. Led by Dr. Ben Lozare and Prof. Emeritus Dr. Henry Mosley, the leadership workshop continues to exist as a self-sustaining tuition-funded program, and its curriculum and training materials have been adapted and institutionalized in at least three major African partner programs (Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana, University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria) as well as the former Nanjing College for Population Planning and Management, now a part of Nanjing Technical University. Other university partners, in turn, have adapted the course materials for training colleagues from the ministry of health as well as local officials. 

The Institute has also supported more than sixty students, many from developing countries, in achieving their academic goals by funding their dissertation work or providing funds for them to do an internship in a developing country.

A total of seven reproductive health centers of excellence have been established with partner institutions at Makerere University in Uganda, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, Assiut University in Egypt, University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, Kwame Nkrumah University (KNUST), the University of Ghana and University of Malawi.  In addition to institutionalizing the strategic leadership course, all have established graduate curricula or degree programs in reproductive health; developed faculty research for family planning, reproductive and child health, and population; and hosted family planning national summits. Several now mentor other regional universities, helping build their reproductive health teaching and research capacity.

Modest investments in the establishment of reproductive health centers have been leveraged by local partners to create two schools of public health at Addis Ababa University and KNUST, and centers for reproductive health at the University of Ibadan, University of Malawi and Makerere University. Moreover, for every dollar received from the Institute, these programs have generated an additional $2.28 in new funding for research and training, an impressive return on investment.

Through these partner institutions, at least 1,000 people have been trained from 2003 to 2013 and many have received formal degrees in-country, thus creating local capacity to continuously supply a new generation of leaders in the field.

Since 2002, the Gates Institute’s support has enabled Hopkins faculty to collaborate with faculty from partner institutions leading to over 135 peer-reviewed journal articles. The partner institutions in turn have published over 365 articles. Journal articles have filled the knowledge gaps in population, reproductive health and family planning.

The Gates Institute has convened leadership gatherings around family planning almost annually since 2002. The first four were held in Baltimore: Family Planning in New Worlds (2002), Family Planning and the Workforce (2003), Parliamentarian Leadership Seminar (2004) and Obstetric Fistula prevention (2005).  In 2006 the Regional Conference on Family Planning and HIV Integration was held in Ethiopia, and in 2008 the International Research Conference on Youth and Development was held in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2009 the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) series began in Uganda, followed by Senegal in 2011, Ethiopia in 2013 and Indonesia in 2016. In 2016 over 3,200 researchers, advocates, ministers, journalists and youth gathered to discuss family planning, solidifying its importance on the global health and development agenda. After many of these conferences, papers were screened and edited for journal publication, with supplements occurring in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics (August 2015 and November 2013), the African Journal of Reproductive Health and the Global Public Health Journal.

The Advance Family Planning (AFP) initiative within the Gates Institute facilitates a process of identifying and strategizing with leaders who have the stature and skill to persuade policy makers on the sub-national, national, regional and global levels to invest in family planning. The approach used connects a series of near-term “quick wins” toward broad, long-term goals. To date, AFP approach has led to more than 100 significant policy advances.

The Gates Institute’s Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) initiative represents a revolution in the way data are collected, utilizing smartphone technology for collecting household and facility-level data in real time. It supports a new cadre of female resident enumerators (REs) who are deployed every six months to collect a new round of data, enabling regular monitoring of program progress. PMA2020 creates a community feedback loop to prompt program improvement and strengthens local capacity.

The Gates Institute took the lead to drive action on the Demographic Dividend (DD), a key emerging issue. The Institute and the World Bank successfully organized ministerial and technical advisors to attend a DD seminar, the first global level event of its kind, which set off a chain reaction that continues to move forward and amplify demographic dividend as a strategic framework for effective policy making. The institute also assisted the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union in convening a side seminar at the Joint Meeting of African Ministers of Finance and Economic Development, resulting in a Joint Ministerial call for launching an Africa-wide Demographic Dividend Initiative. With Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the Institute co-hosts demographicdividend.org, a resource for DD-related research and scholarship. In fall 2016, PRB launched a video about youth and the demographic dividend, featuring footage from the ICFP. 

The Institute also supports the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP), an alliance of young individuals, youth associations, organizations and communities with a common mission to support provision of comprehensive reproductive health care services with a particular focus on family planning for youth. IYAFP was born out of the 2013 ICFP and continues to grow and amplify youth voices in family planning and reproductive health, with more than 52 country coordinators as of late 2016. Their original song, "Girls," debuted to a cheering, dancing crowd at the 2016 ICFP and now has a music video!

In 2015, the Institute launched 120 Under 40 to highlight the next generation of family planning champions. Over the next five years, 120 Under 40 will recognize and galvanize the accomplished, inspiring young people who are making a difference in family planning and reproductive health. The initiative shines a light on the "positive disruptions" made by young leaders in family planning, enabling others to model their behaviors and build on their success.

A year later, in 2016, the Gates Institute launched The Challenge Initiative (TCI), a global urban reproductive health program led by the Institute and supported by a three-year, $42 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. TCI is an innovative scale-up of the Gates Foundation's successful urban reproductive health projects in Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and India. Participating cities will self-select and bring their own resources (financial or in-kind) to the table, aided by their access to a fund initially seeded by the Gates Foundation for technical expertise and program delivery. Cities will work with TCI’s in-country partners—called accelerator hubs—to develop proposals for implementing customized, cost-effective family planning interventions. Promising proposals will be awarded matching funds from TCI’s Challenge Fund, and will also receive targeted technical assistance from the accelerator hub during project implementation. TCI’s accelerator hubs and their coverage areas will be led by Jhpiego in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda), IntraHealth in Francophone West Africa, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs in Nigeria and Population Services International in India.

The Gates Institute has also developed the Family Planning Voices Installation as a physical expansion of K4Health and FP2020’s Family Planning Voices (#FPVoices) digital storytelling initiative, which seeks to document, through photography and interviews, the stories of individuals working to improve access to family planning around the world. In 2016, the FP Voices Installation has traveled to the ICFP in Indonesia, the Women Deliver Conference in Denmark and the 120 Under 40 Celebration in New York City, and will appear at future events and meetings of the family planning community.

The Gates Institute is not simply an amalgamation of projects, but rather a cohesive, innovative organization that is playing a vital role in charting the course towards universal access to family planning and reproductive health.