This week the Gates Foundation released their 2018 Annual Letter. The letter has the following introduction:
“A decade ago, we started a new annual tradition: sitting down to write a letter about our work in philanthropy. This year we’re marking our 10th letter by answering 10 tough questions about our work that people often ask us.”
I’ve always appreciated how collaborative and transparent the Gates Foundation has been. The letter is a great read, and I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety. But if you stubbornly refuse to do so, here are a few highlights to entice you to reconsider…
Deaths of Children Under the Age of 5:
This is a snippet I grabbed from a video embedded in the letter. In the video, Melinda Gates points out that most of these childhood deaths are preventable.
Here’s a thought exercise: pretend the column on the left was labeled “2017” (indicating that 11M children under the age of 5 died last year worldwide) and the column on the right was labeled “2043”, and the presenter said “our goal is to decrease early childhood deaths by over 50% in 26 years”. What would you say?
You’d probably say things like “that’s a BHAG“, or “sounds like a great idea, but chances of success are slim”.
But that amazing leap is what has happened already. Pretty powerful stuff.
They Are Honest About Their Uneven Success in Improving U.S. Education
I’m going to guess that Bill and Melinda don’t see too many bar charts that look as uninspiring as this one. I’m of the opinion that the percentage of students who complete college isn’t a very valuable metric of preparedness for tomorrow’s economy – and preparedness is one of the key reasons why the Gates Foundation focuses so much on education in the first place. But it’s an easy metric to track and certainly more people completing college is better than the alternative. They speak in the letter about what it takes to introduce, measure, and expand new practices and programs in our educational system. They continue to work towards better outcomes, but as Bill correctly puts it in the letter,
“To get widely adopted, an idea has to work for schools in a huge variety of settings: urban and rural, high-income and low-income, and so on. It also has to overcome the status quo. America’s schools are, by design, not a top-down system. To make significant change, you have to build consensus among a wide range of decision makers, including state governments, local school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents.”
- It’s easy to get bogged down in the bad news, but by most any metric the world is getting better. It isn’t on the way to “perfect”, nor will it ever. But we have the tools, resources, and experience to apply the cycle of test-learn-adapt for the benefit of all. Need more convincing? Here’s an article called “Proof That Life is Getting Better for Humanity, in 5 Charts”.
- Sure, the Gates Foundation, measured in dollars, is enormous. But before we think massive foundations can cure all, consider this section of the letter: “Even though our foundation is the biggest in the world, the money we have is very small compared to what businesses and governments spend. For example, California spends more than our entire endowment just to run its public school system for one year.”
- People will understandably look to the scale of the Gates Foundation and focus on the money, but it is money leavened by enthusiasm, focus, initiative and listening. These are behaviors available to all of us. It’s great to admire the Gates Foundation from a distance, but our work is in front of us and it is worth doing, and doing well.
Reading the letter can help you be a voice of optimism in your work environment and community, and we need more of that.