Seven questions for the Gates Foundation's new comms leader

While the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is widely known by name, the work it carries out remains something of a mystery according to new CCO Miguel Veiga-Pestana. He tells PRWeek how he plans to change that.

Miguel Veiga-Pestana
Miguel Veiga-Pestana

Miguel Veiga-Pestana made the move last month from Unilever’s London-based corporate headquarters, where he served as VP for global advocacy, to Seattle, Washington to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as CCO.

What are your key responsibilities as the foundation’s new CCO?
I am responsible for communications as they relate to the foundation and I oversee 60 people. I will be looking at channel management, such as social media channels. I will also focus on internal employee engagement and employee communications.

I am also responsible for our media partnership program, which is about engaging with media partners in building a narrative around key topics. For instance, if we want to raise the visibility of the debate on malaria or polio, we will work with media partners to try and develop programming or get the story out there about why malaria is important.

What are your personal objectives for the foundation?
I am coming in to try and build a great, high-performing team. I am doing it with a clear purpose and focus to amplify the voice of the foundation internally and externally. There are 1,200 people who work at the foundation, so we have to think about the culture we are trying to create, our values, and how we build out our employee engagement strategy.

What is the main message you want to get out there about the foundation?
A lot of the stakeholders we engage with, such as key decision-makers or the media, have a positive sense of what the foundation does, but they don’t have a sense of what we are delivering or the total sum of the parts. So, we have a big opportunity to help communicate the broader narrative of the foundation.

If people knew more about what we did, they would be stronger advocates for what we do. Part of my agenda is to create more advocates within the foundation and also externally. We can do that by having a stronger narrative of what the foundation is doing and how it is making its contribution.

The foundation works with partner organizations worldwide to tackle critical problems. Can you elaborate on this strategy?
Everything we do here is about having an impact and making a difference. And we understand social and digital are a great way of building advocates and creating a sense of understanding and awareness. So, naturally, we are looking at how we strengthen that. Part of it is how we engage; the other part is how we work with our partners and how they engage on a given issue.

We work directly as a foundation, as well as with Bill and Melinda Gates, on driving social or media campaigns on key programmatic areas for us, such as health, social inclusion, agriculture, and nutrition. We also partner with other organizations, such as Save the Children, who similarly engage in social media campaigns that resonate with these [issues]. We may occasionally speak out as a foundation in support of our partner-activated campaigns.

We also do advocacy work to engage governments or key decision-makers to elevate an issue or to drive a debate to meet some of the goals we set.

The foundation is small and there is only so much we can do to make a difference. So we build partnerships and work with stakeholders who can do the delivery on the ground and take things to scale.

Starting next month, all grantees receiving full or partial funding from the foundation will be required to submit their research to open access journals. Why has the foundation taken this step?
This is about transparency. A great part of our goal to get people to become advocates is how you give people more access to information and create more openness and transparency.

We are trying to make people aware of the challenges we are trying to address. Next, we are moving people from a level of basic awareness to a level of understanding of what we are trying to do and why we are doing it. Then we plan to move people to a level of engagement. Once people understand what we're doing, they will be more willing to engage and start acting. And then, ultimately, because people share the same ambitions, they start to become advocates.

As more companies integrate CSR into their objectives, do you worry your foundation will become less relevant?
That makes us more relevant because we are going to create more partners, more people who share the same beliefs, motivation, and agendas. It just adds to the list of people with whom we are able to collaborate.

Next year the foundation turns 15. Any plans to mark the occasion?
This is a big opportunity for us to step back and look at the journey the foundation has been on, communicate where it wants to go, and how it sees itself evolving.

But, if you think about it, the foundation is still just a 15-year-old in high school. We are maturing and evolving as we grow and build out what we do. I am supporting the senior leadership team by creating a sense of shared value, culture, and agendas, internally and externally.

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