Bill Gates, who six months ago left Microsoft, the company he co-founded in 1975, to assume a full-time role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has released a public letter about the foundation's efforts to improve education and global public health, as well as the impact of the economic downturn on those efforts.
In his first annual letter (20 pages, PDF), Gates pointed to the foundation's successes — and some of its failures — as it works to reduce the number of childhood deaths worldwide, improve agricultural outputs in Africa and South Asia, and close educational achievement gaps in the United States. Gates also discussed foundation efforts to combat polio, AIDS, and malaria around the globe, including a recent $255 million challenge grant to Rotary International to help eradicate polio in a number of developing countries, including Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.
Although the foundation saw the value of its assets fall by roughly 20 percent in 2008, Gates said the foundation will increase the dollar amount of its grantmaking in the coming year, from the $3.3 billion — or just over 5 percent of its assets — it gave in 2008 to $3.8 billion — or 7 percent of its assets. He said he expects the economic downturn to last at least a few more years, but is optimistic that "innovation in every field — from software and materials science to genetics and energy generation...will help improve the world and reinvigorate the world economy."
Gates also praised the Obama administration for reaffirming its commitment to education despite shrinking tax revenues, and called on governments and individuals to continue giving.
"Although it will be difficult to keep aid-related issues on the front page during this crisis, we need to meet the challenge by making sure the success stories are told and making sure that inequity that is out of sight is not out of mind," said Gates. "I am impressed by individuals who continue to give generously even in these difficult times. I believe that the wealthy have a responsibility to invest in addressing inequity. This is especially true when the constraints on others are so great. Otherwise, we will come out of the economic downturn in a world that is even more unequal, with greater inequities in health and education, and fewer opportunities for people to improve their lives."