Gates Foundation Discovery Center – the digital world inspires the analog

Gates Foundation Discovery Center

In Seattle you can find the Gates Foundation Discovery Center. It’s more than a museum – this is the place to be inspired and become part of change. And it’s an example how you can work with conversion – in the physical world.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is said to be the largest charity organization in the United States, considering the amount of money in the treasury chest. The foundation has more than $50 billion in assets. Its activities are focused on counteracting poverty, illnesses, lack of education and the like in developing countries – but there is also an extensive work on education and homelessness in the United States.

A museum that is not a museum – in Seattle

To the Gates couple, although living in Medina on the other side of Lake Washington, Seattle must be considered their home turf. Seattle not only hosts the headquarters of the foundation – here you will find a Discovery Center, open to the public. It is not called a museum, but it looks like a museum. And it’s a museum that wants to inspire.

First of all, I must say that the Gates Foundation Discovery Center provides a very professional impression. Everything is solidly done. The fact that the digital presentations are of high quality can of course be expected from something that carries Microsoft’s founder’s name, but even as a whole it really is a well thought out concept. Well worth a visit.

The Gates Foundation Discovery Center is committed to engaging

The Gates Foundation wants to change the world and the Gates Foundation Discovery Center is about how to do it. “We are impatient optimists”, they describe themselves and a very clear purpose of the outward business is to inspire others to contribute to change.

Here, the Gates Foundation Discovery Center differs from other museums, I think. You’ll notice in every theme, in every moment a way forward. “This is what you can do” is summarized on signs associated with each part. Well divided into different levels of commitment – what you can easily do immediately and what you can do if you are looking for deeper commitment.

The will to change needs strategy to succeed

Another interesting aspect is that the Discovery Center not only tells you what’s wrong in the world and what they’ve done to correct at least some of this. A red thread runs through the exhibits – to accomplish change you need a good idea, but you also need the knowledge and ability to implement it. And here they are humble enough to say that in complex situations there can be many different possible solutions.

Here I think that the background from the tech world shines through. We who work with digital development are – nowadays – quite skilled at working in groups with diverse competences, making processes move forward, measuring and following up on what we do and more. We are still quite bad at matching our expectations with those of our clients and a lot of other things – but unquestionably, today we as developers can transform ideas into reality.

At the Gates Foundation Discovery Center, it becomes clear how that ability is truly a knowledge that can and needs to be conveyed to others, not least to the ones driven by commitment to change the world.

A study in conversion beyond the keyboard

We who work with website development, apps and services in social media love talking about conversion (easily translated as a user or visitor who takes some kind of action – for example, subscribe to a newsletter or add a new Volkswagen to the shopping cart). And when we talk about conversion, we like to talk about engagement, commitment staircases, customer journeys, etc.

In fact, the Gates Foundation Discovery Center is just such a journey “away from keyboard”, in the physical world. Everything leads to a conversion, a commitment to improving the world – with the contribution you can make.

Inspiration to transform into change

My visit to 440 5th Avenue was really inspiring. These are among the things that I take with me:

  • Match needs with interest (“X is a problem and I like to play saxophone. I can arrange a concert in favor of X”).
  • Ideas need strategy to become reality – it also applies to charity and other nonprofit projects.
  • Charity and nonprofit projects need to be measured to help us know if our contribution is doing well or bad.
  • Strategies may need to be reassessed when we’ve see if it is going well or bad.
  • Work with others. Find partners, who know the local community and knows your topic.
  • Always address the person you are talking to. When the center describes what they are doing, one point is “to inspire people like you to …”
  • Help people who want to get involved in the traces. What is the next step if someone thinks that “I want to be a part of this”? Make sure that step can be taken here and now.

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