Bill Gates outlines impressive charity work in first annual published letter

January 27, 2009

(ChattahBox) — After retiring from Microsoft last year, co-founder Bill Gates, talked about how he would like to focus more on his charity work in the future. Yesterday, Gates released the first annual letter describing his new role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He seems to have brought his passion and ambition to his second career. Gates released (download the 20-page PDF here) what he describes as the first of an annually published letter detailing some of the focus areas of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Within his letter Gates describes “three magical elements” – “opportunities for big breakthroughs”, outlining the efforts in Global Health, Global Development, and a dedicated U.S. education Program. In health, he provides insight in a program that accounts for 50% of the spending of the Foundation and concentrates on 20 diseases, such as  polio, pneumonia, “diarrheal diseases (including rotavirus), and malaria—which mostly kill kids—and AIDS and TB, which mostly kill adults.”

“With a handful of new vaccines, we should be able to save a year of a person’s life for well under $100. If we waste $500,000, we are wasting 5,000 years of life. This is the kind of trade-off I ask our employees to consider when they are deciding which areas to get involved in and which grants to make,” Gates writes.

There is also the Global Development program, trying to address rural development and starvation. “About 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day. More than 900 million suffer from chronic hunger, and most of them live in rural areas of developing countries,” according to Gates. “This is why the foundation added our Global Development Program to complement the Global Health group two years ago. We are working in areas like financial services, including savings and insurance. Our biggest investment is in improving agricultural output, another area where innovations have made a huge difference for millions of people but have not reached the poorest, especially in Africa and South Asia.”

He hopes that “new seeds and other inputs like fertilizer allow a farmer to increase a farm’s output significantly, instead of just growing enough food to subsist. This innovation is just as important as developing and delivering vaccinations.”

The U.S. Program is aimed at improving education to “help reduce inequity”. Gates not only shares what is being done now, what is being funded, but also what has been achieved already, such as this: “Lee High School, Houston, Texas. But a few of the schools that we funded achieved something amazing. They replaced schools with low expectations and low results with ones that have high expectations and high results. These schools are not selective in whom they admit, and they are overwhelmingly serving kids in poor areas, most of whose parents did not go to college. Almost all of these schools are charter schools that have significantly longer school days than other schools.” These schools aim to have all of their kids enter four-year colleges, and many of them achieve that goal with 90 percent to 100 percent of their students. Every visit energizes me to work to get most high schools to be like this.

Gates also discusses why he is optimistic about the future, despite the current global economy.

“Staying the course, I think, is the best answer here; we need to keep learning, need to keep driving the innovations. In fact, the need for this is even greater than ever.”

Gates spends some time in the letter addressing doubts that his charity may not be as fulfilling as Microsoft was and claims that his tasks are actually quite similar. Gates says he believes that his “experience in building teams of smart people with different skill sets focused on tough long-term problems can be a real contribution” and he noted that “the intelligence and dedication of the people involved in these issues are just as impressive as what he has seen before.”

“Many of my friends were concerned that I wouldn’t find the foundation work as engaging or rewarding as my work at Microsoft. I loved my work at Microsoft and it had been my primary focus for over 30 years. I too would have worried if I had paused and thought about it enough.” He mentions that his job at Microsoft had “three magical things” – an “opportunity for big breakthroughs”, he felt he has “skills would let [him] help create a special company that would be part of a whole new industry” and the work would “let [him] engage with people who were smart and knew things [he] didn’t.”


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