Bill Rankin: visionary co-founder and CEO of GAIA to retire

bill rankin in malawiBill Rankin, CEO of the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance (GAIA), will retire at the end of the year. Spurred by the devastation of AIDS, Rankin co-founded GAIA in 2000 with UCSF neurosurgeon Dr. Charlie Wilson to provide health care relief to the impoverished African country of Malawi. Rankin will be honored at a leadership celebration tonight at the Golden Gate Club in the Presidio. “It’s time for someone younger to take GAIA to the next level for the sake of the African people whom we respect and care deeply about,” says Rankin.

With more than 50,000 deaths a year due to AIDS, resulting in 650,000 orphans to date, Malawi has attracted celebrity benefactors including Madonna and tennis champion Roger Federer. No one, however, can compare to the 70 year-old Rankin for the long-term, far-reaching impact that his visionary leadership has had on Malawi through GAIA. During his 11-year tenure as CEO, Rankin has helped raise over $16 million, 86 percent of which is directly funneled into GAIA programs. Due to its excellent track record, GAIA has garnered funding from the United States Agency for International Development, the Elizabeth Taylor HIV/AIDS Foundation, the Westly Foundation, and The Hamels Foundation, and the support of actors Martin Sheen, Jane Kaczmarek, and Rainn Wilson.   

With the help of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and backed by an esteemed medical advisory board, GAIA’s strategy is to focus on remote villages beyond the reach of other aid organizations and to train and empower rural Malawian women to care for their fellow villagers. With nursing scholarships for young women who fill the gap of health care providers, a comprehensive village strategy centered on AIDS education and care coupled with orphan care programs to keep children nourished and educated, mobile health clinics that reach the most remote patients, and micro-loans for women entrepreneurs, GAIA gives the people of Malawi a real chance to help themselves.

The former Rector of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Belvedere, Rankin will continue to teach Philosophy of Science and Biomedical Ethics at the UCSF Graduate School of Nursing and serve on numerous Bay Area boards. On an upcoming research fellowship in Geneva, he will study why it is so difficult for African women to access proper health care and how to make this easier. In the meantime, the GAIA offices in Larkspur and Pasadena, California, will continue their fundraising and other support of the GAIA Malawi staff.

Described by bestselling author Anne Lamott in her book Traveling Mercies as “smart and profoundly tenderhearted,” Rankin’s multiple masters’ degrees and doctorate in Philosophy reflect his acumen, but GAIA defines his life’s passion. Rankin’s many visits to Malawi fuel his knowledge of the breadth of need and dearth of assistance. He knows that anti-viral medications are at the crux of Malawi’s survival, and he worries that global aid may not come through as promised. “The possibility of these medications suddenly not being available is too grim to contemplate,” Rankin says. Although transitioning from CEO to volunteer, GAIA will never be far from Rankin’s mind: “Maybe a small part of us is made well because we stand by Malawi’s children, today and tomorrow and for a thousand tomorrows.”