On the Gates Foundation 2017 annual letter

Bill & Melinda Gates wrote an annual letter about the work their foundation has been doing for the last 25 years. It is fascinating how much they have accomplished and even more fascinating to see the way they approach it. There are some valuable lessons one can take out of it.

Some highlights:

– “There’s nothing like actually writing something out to clarify thinking.” [ — Buffett, after explaining that he was the primary beneficiary of the annual letters he writes ]
– Unlike a market economy, in philanthropy everyone is on the same side. The focus is not on “how our foundation is doing”, but on “how the world is doing”.
– 122 Million of children lives saved. The biggest impact being vaccinations 86% global coverage – up from ~20% in 1990.
– For every dollar spent on childhood immunizations, you get $44 in economic benefits. That includes saving the money that families lose when a child is sick and a parent can’t work.
– “When a huge challenge comes up and you have no answer, it’s crucial to ask, ‘Is anyone doing this well?'” [ On reducing newborn mortality ]
– Poor country like Rwanda cut its newborn mortality rate by 30 percent in 7 years with basically no money required. Their secret: breastfeeding in the first hour and exclusively for the first six months. Cutting the umbilical cord in a hygienic way. And kangaroo care: skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby to raise the baby’s body temperature.
– Contraceptives are also one of the greatest antipoverty innovations in history. No country in the last 50 years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives.
– Poverty is sexist. The poorer the society, the less power women have. Men decide if a woman is allowed to go outside, talk to other women, earn income. Men decide if it’s acceptable to strike a woman. The male dominance in the poorest societies is mind-blowing.
– 75 Million women in support groups in India – dealing with the stigma, HIV etc. `All lives have equal value’ is not just a principle; it’s a strategy.
– Extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990. In significant ways, the world is a better place to live than it has ever been. Global poverty is going down, childhood deaths are dropping, literacy is rising, the status of women and minorities around the world is improving
– Last year there were only 37 new cases of Polio in the world. It’s thrilling to be nearing the day when no children will be crippled by polio.
– People ask all the time how they can help in the fight against child mortality–and we are always proud to recommend making a donation to UNICEF, an organization that is successful at serving families and children worldwide. We hope your gift will help inspire others to get involved as well.


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