Annual Gates Letter Touts Risk, Reward, Future Focus

Bill and Melinda Gates wrote about the successes and failures of the past two decades in their 2020 Annual Letter released this morning. They touted innovation as their primary reason for optimism going forward and pledged to continue to take risks at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“When we first started this work, we were optimistic about the power of innovation to drive progress — and excited about the role we could play by taking risks to unlock it,” they wrote. “Twenty years later, we’re just as optimistic — and we’re still swinging for the fences. But we now have a much deeper understanding of how important it is to ensure that innovation is distributed equitably. If only some people in some places are benefitting from new advances, then others are falling even further behind.”

The pair wrote that the “role as philanthropists is not only to take risks that support innovation but to work with our partners to overcome the challenges of scale in delivering it. We believe that progress should benefit everyone, everywhere.”

The foundation has spent $53.8 billion during the past 20 years. Global development received 45 percent of the money with global health getting 29 percent. U.S. programs received 16 percent of the spending with “other charitable programs” receiving 10 percent. The foundation has $47.8 billion in assets as of its 2018 financial statement posted to the organization’s website.

The Gates’ wrote about the work they’ve done on health and education and why they believe the risks they’ve taken have set the foundation up for future progress. They have added to the agenda. “We also write about two issues that have emerged as priorities for us — the climate crisis and gender equality — and how they will factor into our next 20 years.

With a tip of the cap to avid baseball fan Bill Gates, Sr., they wrote of what fellow philanthropist Warren Buffet, who donated the bulk of his fortune to the Gates Foundation, told them: “swing for the fences.” That’s where the risk comes into play.

When you swing for the fences, you’re putting every ounce of strength into hitting the ball as far as possible. You know that your bat might miss the ball entirely — but that if you succeed in making contact, the rewards can be huge,” they wrote. “That’s how we think about our philanthropy, too. The goal isn’t just incremental progress. It’s to put the full force of our efforts and resources behind the big bets that, if successful, will save and improve lives.”

An example of that power is the February 5 announcement of $100 million to combat the Coronavirus which as of Sunday had claimed nearly 1,000 lives to far with an estimated 40,000 people now infected, mostly in China. The money will go toward the foundation will provide up to $100 million to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations in Africa and South Asia; and accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics.

The couple acknowledged that money can only do so much. “To be clear, the risks we take are different from the ones the true heroes of global progress take all the time: the health workers who brave war zones to get vaccines to children who need them, the teachers who sign up to work in the most challenging schools, the women in the world’s poorest places who stand up against cultural norms and traditions designed to keep them down. What they do requires personal sacrifices we never have to make—and we try to honor them by supporting innovations that might one day make their lives easier.”

Read the complete letter here … https://www.gatesnotes.com/2020-Annual-Letter