Honoring our local roots.

Honoring our local roots.

What We Do

Everyone should have access to the opportunities they need to design the future they want. That core belief drives the Gates Foundation’s work around the world and in our home state of Washington, where we work at the local, regional, and state level. 

In all of our work, we focus on the people and communities who face the highest barriers to opportunity in Washington state including Black, Latino, Indigenous, and low-income communities.

In the Seattle region, our Community Engagement team supports local nonprofits with grants that help them address issues affecting the lives of our most vulnerable neighbors, such as housing security, access to social services, and racial equity. 

Across the state, we’ve sharpened our focus on education, which we believe is essential to giving young people control over their own lives, today and into the future. Our Washington State team works with local and regional partners to help students see a clear path to success in the careers they choose. That begins with helping students take the next step in their education journeys after high school.

To get there, we’re focusing on where our grantmaking can make the biggest impact. We’re listening to students, parents, and educators to identify what’s working for them and where they need more support. We’re bringing schools and community-based organizations together to share expertise, build on each other’s strengths, and coordinate efforts. And we’re helping to unlock opportunities for families and communities where support systems are stretched and resources are scarce. 

Individually, our grantmaking efforts strengthen and advance the work already being done by smaller nonprofits, schools, and local organizations. Together, they help more people achieve their full potential, champion local talent and innovation, and improve quality of life across our state.

History of Work

Learn more about where we’ve been to understand where our work is heading.

  1. 2022

    We announced a new statewide focus on helping more students enroll in postsecondary programs after graduating from high school. This work will support locally led collaborations across the state united by a common goal: to help students see a clear path to continue their education beyond high school and find success in the careers they choose.

  2. 2021

    For nearly two decades, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working to eradicate homelessness in its home state. What began in 2001 as a focus on transitional housing shifted to a more systems-change approach to reduce and prevent homelessness among families with children. In February 2021, a virtual event was held entitled A Decade of Innovation: Lessons from the Puget Sound Family Homelessness Initiative. Explore key insights shared by our partners from the event.

  3. 2020

    It’s the 20th Anniversary of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Over the years, our Pacific Northwest team has invested over $3.2 billion in grants to locally-focused non-profits and community-based organizations in Washington state, including over $5 million for COVID-19 response, over $175 million for housing, homelessness and social services, about $113 million for community foundations to reach low-income and marginalized communities across the state, and nearly $900 million to improve education from pre-K through college and career.

  4. early learning


    With 15 years of experience and over $150 million in grants for early learning, we collect our lessons learned into a case study to share with policymakers, educators, researchers and advocates. By looking back, we hope to accelerate progress going forward. Read more: In Pursuit of Quality: A Case Study of Early Learning in Washington State

  5. 2019

    Leveraging the Building Community Philanthropy network, we help seed the Washington Census Equity Fund at Philanthropy Northwest, a statewide pooled fund for census outreach, education, and communications to ensure a robust and accurate count. The fund attracted a total of $1.5 million, including $250,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to support 85 grantees working in 36 of Washington’s 39 counties to reach historically hard-to-count communities.

  6. 2018

    We band together with legendary rockers Pearl Jam on The Home Shows, raising close to $11 million to fight homelessness in the Seattle region, including support for nearly 1,800 classrooms serving students experiencing homelessness. Read more from our director here.

  7. 2018

    Building on the capacity and connections of the Road Map Project, we start investing in Local Improvement Networks, facilitating collaborations across elementary schools and community partners in South King County, designed to end racial inequities in K-5 mathematics by integrating the Social, Emotional, Academic, and Developmental needs of students—supporting the whole child across the whole school.

  8. 2017

    The College Promise Coalition launches, bringing together public and private partners to advocate for affordable, accessible higher education opportunities for Washington students.

  9. 2016

    We focus on integrating all our work in Washington state, incorporating housing stability, community partnerships, and social-emotional learning as key supports for academic success. 

  10. 2015

    Voters approve Best Starts for Kids, an initiative to put every child and youth in King County on a path toward lifelong success. The Best Starts initiative co-funds many of our foundation grantees, building stronger relationships across philanthropy, government, and community-based organizations. 

  11. 2015

    State lawmakers pass the Early Start Act, and the city of Seattle launches the Seattle Preschool Program—expanding access to high-quality, affordable early education for the region’s youngest learners. With grant support, Seattle opened the first ever preschool classrooms in local elementary schools. Watch the video to learn more.

  12. 2014

    We make a big bet on Rainier Valley Corps, to recruit, train, mentor and place young leaders of color in full-time fellowships at grassroots communities-of-color-led organizations. In 2017, as RVC was expanding their services and their fellowship program, we increased our grant support. Read more in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

  13. 2014

    The Washington Families Fund expands to include homeless prevention measures for youth and young adults.

  14. 2013

    After Washington adopts the Common Core State Standards, the Ready WA coalition launches—bringing together state leaders, educators, and advocacy organizations to ensure students are better prepared for college, work and life.

  15. 2012

    The Gates Foundation Visitor Center (now the Discovery Center) opens at our Seattle headquarters, providing an interactive space to connect the public to the work of the foundation, explore solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges, and take action on the issues that matter to them.

  16. 2012

    Our Building Community Philanthropy (BCP) initiative launches with $5 million, bringing together community foundations, United Ways, and identity organizations like Potlatch Fund and Pride Foundation, to improve their practices and reduce intergenerational poverty. Since 2012, we have contributed nearly $28 million to the BCP network, for 23 philanthropic partners reaching over 90% of low-income and marginalized communities across the state. In 2020, the network remains strong and is now led by Philanthropy Northwest.

  17. 2012

    Washington State voters approve Initiative 1240, allowing the option of high-quality public charter schools, with more flexibility and more accountability than traditional schools, aimed at getting all students to college. 

  18. 2011

    Our new headquarters across from Seattle Center opens with LEED-platinum certification, the highest environmental award available at the time.

  19. 2010

    We help launch the Road Map Project in South Seattle and South King County, with $4.3 million over the first three years, creating centralized support for a collective, community-driven effort to address racial inequities in seven school districts, serving 127,000 students in some of the most divers zip codes in the nation. By 2020, The Road Map Project is providing essential data collection and analysis, increasing culturally relevant supports in schools, and building stronger connections between schools and families, supporting students from cradle through college and career. Since 2010, we’ve invested over $17 million in this collective impact initiative, and in 2020 they remain a key partner in our education work.

  20. 2009

    We commit $60 million over 10 years to the Puget Sound Family Homelessness Initiative, as the strategy evolves from service-provision in transitional housing to an updated housing-first approach based upon evidence-based practices distilled from innovative work in other communities across the country that have succeeded in reducing family homelessness.  

  21. 2008

    The Sound Families Initiative reaches its goal of tripling the amount of supportive housing in three counties. Bill & Melinda approve an updated strategy to reduce Family Homelessness, partnering with Building Changes to use proven principles of early intervention, a single point-of-entry for social services, flexible and personalized service provision, data-driven decision-making, and rapid re-housing. 

  22. 2006

    The Department of Early Learning is established, bringing heightened visibility and focus on quality in early learning, and overseeing the state-funded preschool program, child care licensing, and other programs to support parents.

  23. 2005

    Bill & Melinda approve a new Early Learning Strategy, with the goal of ensuring that more children across Washington state are better prepared for kindergarten. Read more in our case study.

  24. 2004

    Building on the success of Sound Families, state lawmakers create the Washington Families Fund, a public-private partnership to fund affordable housing with social services. The fund is seeded with $2 million from the state and $2 million from the Gates Foundation, and attracts 14 private funders by 2005 and 24 private funders by 2011. Read more in this case study.

  25. 2000

    We help launch a statewide Foundation for Early Learning with a $10 million grant. The organization builds on Melinda’s experience with the 1998 state commission, and later merges with Thrive Washington.

  26. 2000

    We launch the Sound Families Initiative, a $40 million, eight-year commitment to address family homelessness in the Puget Sound region, with a goal of creating 1,500 new transitional housing units linked to a full set of social services.

  27. 2000

    The William H. Gates Foundation, established in 1994 to improve reproductive and child health in developing countries, merges with the Gates Learning Foundation, an evolution of the libraries program, to form the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  28. 1999

    To build the long-term capacity of the United Way of King County, the foundation invests a one-time grant of $30 million plus a matching fund of $5 million a year for 11 years to create an endowment and better serve the immediate needs of people living in poverty in our hometown.

  29. 1999

    The Gates Millennium Scholars Program launches, providing a full scholarship for high-achieving students of color to attend any college or university and receive mentoring, academic and social support.

  30. 1998

    Governor Gary Locke appoints his wife, Mona Lee Locke, and Melinda French Gates to co-chair the Commission on Early Learning, charged with identifying gaps in opportunities for young children and raising awareness of the importance of the early years.

  31. 1997

    Building on their experience at Microsoft and the promise of personal computing to improve knowledge and opportunity, Bill & Melinda launch the Gates Libraries Foundation with $200 million to help all U.S. public libraries offer free Internet access.