In corporate boardrooms and presidential state rooms lined with flags, Joe Cerrell confers with the world’s most powerful leaders.
As director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s new Europe office, Cerrell is tasked with deepening relationships with governments and organizations in the region to increase funding for international development issues including global health and agriculture.
“I meet with government and industry leaders who we hope will spend more wisely on issues we care about,” Cerrell said from his London office.
In January, Cerrell accompanied Bill Gates to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where he discussed polio eradication with Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron. Later that week, he and Gates sat down with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss France’s plans as host of the upcoming G8 and G20 summits. Another major figure on his schedule was Muhtar Kent, CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. Cerrell and Kent brainstormed ways to apply the industry giant’s supply chain methods to the distribution of vaccines in Africa.
Representing the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropic organization with an endowment of $36.4 billion, requires resourcefulness and excellent communication skills.
“It takes some creativity to find an argument or incentive to get countries and companies motivated on these big issues,” he added. “I try to help them understand that investing in developing countries is not only the right thing to do, but also makes sense from a strategic and security perspective.”
As an English major and political science minor in USC Dornsife, Cerrell took part in a Washington, D.C., internship program through the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. This experience, and the guidance he received from his late father, USC Dornsife alumnus, professor and political consultant Joseph Cerrell Sr. ’57, prepared him for a career in politics, communication and government relations.
After leaving USC in 1991, the younger Cerrell worked for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign, and later as Vice President Al Gore’s assistant press secretary, before taking his first position with the newly created Gates Foundation in 1999.
Since that time, the foundation has committed to thousands of grants totaling more than $25 billion to date for causes ranging from education in the United States to infectious disease research to agricultural development.
Cerrell said that the foundation’s efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to the scope of the world’s health and development issues.
“If we want to make changes in our lifetime, we have to tap into much bigger pools of resources,” he said.
Cerrell hopes to accomplish this, one conversation at a time.