Monday, January 26, 2009

Bill Gates First Annual Letter for the Gates Foundation - A Must Read

Today Bill Gates released his first annual letter from the Gates Foundation as its full time leader.

The letter is very straightforward and candid – taking pride in the Foundation achievements and candidly discussing where it has not achieved as much as they would have liked too. Bill also discusses that the Foundation has been criticized for not taking some specific action and acknowledges that the Foundation will focus on only certain aspects of a problem but that other aspects also need attention. Bill is the first to say that they cannot address all aspects of every problem but that he and Melinda want to understand the problems they do tackle, get at the core of the problems and address them from the strength that the Foundation has to offer. Frequently that involves technology, innovation, sound management and assessing root causes and results. Bill and Melinda are committed to being effective in their giving and so they detail some of their processes and things they’ve learned on their journey with the work of their foundation.

The letter has ten sections as follows:
Childhood Deaths
U.S. Education
Progress on Polio
Progress on AIDS
Progress on Malaria
The Role of Foundations
The Economic Crisis
In Closing

Some Highlights:

International Health
Bill discusses examples of what is required in fighting childhood disease and death in poor countries that involve the complication of refrigerating vaccines and figuring out that additional doses of polio vaccine than what is required in western civilizations is needed. I was very impressed with the work done to understand requirements needed to be effective and the plain communication in his letter to advance understanding and acknowledgement of the work of other organizations making advancement in this area.


Bill shares what they have learned from their investment in secondary education and is candid about the results which have been mixed. The Foundation wants to help teachers be more effective in the classroom. Bill cites research that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. And he recommends that if you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.

Role of Foundations and the Economic Crisis
Bill talks about the responsibility of Foundations and since there isn’t a customer naturally providing feedback that you have to work to ensure you get customer feedback. Bill says that they will increase their giving in 2009 to 7% of assets from 5% in 2008. That is $3.8 Billion versus $3.3 in 2008 even though the Foundation assets decreased by 20% in 2008. I think this really shows leadership for other foundations about the path they should take in this economic downturn.

Marion suggests...
I strongly suggest you go to the website and read the whole letter. It is 20 pages long if you want to download it into a pdf. While you are at the website, there are rich resources in the right hand column for each page with additional online resources for each topic covered. For foundations the resource is about their own grantees feedback - their strengths and weaknesses that grantees reported about them and the action steps they are taking about the weaknesses their grantees reported.

My guess is that there will be a lot written and said about this report. Oh yes, he does quote Warren Buffet a number of times. I enjoyed all of it and appreciated Bill sharing his perspective so thoughtfully on a wide range of topics

Bill Gates 2009 Annual Letter

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