As the new chief financial officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Carolyn Neely Ainslie ’80 knows full well that financial support, when applied and used wisely, can have long-term, wide-ranging significance.
During a 32-year career in university finance and planning, Ainslie made difficult decisions about how to allocate resources to best support an institution’s mission — providing the best possible education while supporting financial-aid policies that expanded opportunities for highly qualified students from various socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ainslie served two Ivy League institutions — Princeton and Cornell. She spent 22 years at the latter, lastly as vice president for planning and budget, and the past decade as Princeton’s vice president for finance.
Ainslie also knows about the power of properly applied resources from her experience at Bucknell. Her father passed away while she was in middle school, and to supplement her mother’s nursing salary, Ainslie worked in dining services and was a resident adviser for three years.
“I worked hard to get through on the financial front,” says Ainslie, who majored in biology. “Education was very important to me and my mom, so it was worth it.”
Working for the Seattle-based Gates Foundation since October, she provides financial leadership, maximizing the impact of the foundation’s portfolio of programmatic investments in global health and development, as well as education.
“In both cases, you have a lot of subject-matter experts who have a lot of good ideas, and you have to make choices and figure out ways to partner with programs to make smart resource allocations and give them time to flourish,” she says.