To mark their 10th annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates presented their answers to 10 tough questions they get asked, including the most popular one lately: How are President Trump’s policies affecting the foundation’s work?
“In the past year, I’ve been asked about President Trump and his policies more often than all the other topics in this letter combined,” Bill Gates wrote in the annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, released today along with a video and other materials. “The most concrete example of the administration’s policies affecting foundation’s work is foreign aid,” an area where the administration has proposed deep budget cuts. “The world is not a safer place when more people are sick or hungry,” he wrote. “It’s better for the United States when it leads, through hard power and soft power.”
Bill Gates also expressed concern about the president’s “America First” worldview. “It’s not that the United States shouldn’t look out for its people. The question is how best to do that.”
Melinda Gates said they must work with the administration to garner as much as support as they can for policies that will benefit the most impoverished people in the world. Specifically, student aid programs need to work better for low-income students, as some 2 million students who are eligible for aid don’t even apply because the process is burdensome.
“I would also say that I believe one of the duties of the president of the United States is to role model American values in the world,” Melinda Gates wrote. “I wish our president would treat people, and especially women, with more respect when he speaks and Tweets. Equality is an important national principle. The president has a responsibility to set a good example and empower all Americans through his statements and his policies.”
The 10th annual letter, titled “10 Toughest Questions We Get,” also delves into what the foundation has done in the past and looks to the future.
The Gates Foundation has about 1,500 employees on four continents and an endowment of some $40 billion.
In response to the question of “Why don’t you give more in the United States?” Melinda Gates said the foundation spends about $500 million annually in the U.S., mostly on education. “That’s a lot, but it is less than the roughly $4 billion we spend to help developing countries,” Melinda Gates wrote.
The foundation has spent $15.3 billion on vaccines during the past 18 years. The number of children who die has dropped from almost 10 million in 2000 to 5 million last year.
Bill Gates said they’ve been looking at how they might expand their work in the U.S. beyond education, such as its U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, which studies ways to help people move up the economic ladder.
Another question posed whether it’s fair that the couple has so much influence. Melinda Gates said it’s not fair but they’ve committed to being open about what’s funded and the results that come with it. “Although we’ve had some success, I think it would be hard to argue at this point that we made the world focus too much on health, education, or poverty,” she said.
“Even though our foundation is the biggest in the world, the money we have is very small compared to what businesses and governments spend,” Bill Gates said, pointing to California, which spends more than the Gates endowment to run its public schools for a year. “There’s another issue at the heart of this question. If we think it’s unfair that we have so much wealth, why don’t we give it all to the government? The answer is that we think there’s always going to be a unique role for foundations,” Bill Gates said.
“We are outspoken about our optimism. These days, though, optimism seems to be in short supply.”
The letter closes by inviting people to the couple their own toughest question.