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Glasspockets Find: 2014 Gates Annual Letter
January 29, 2014

(Mark Foley is Associates Program manager at the Foundation Center’s Washington, DC, office.)

BillGatesphoto“By almost any measure, the world is better than it has ever been. People are living longer, healthier lives. Many nations that were aid recipients are now self-sufficient. You might think that such striking progress would be widely celebrated, but in fact, Melinda and I are struck by how many people think the world is getting worse. The belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful. That’s why in this year’s letter we take apart some of the myths that slow down the work. The next time you hear these myths, we hope you will do the same.”

-- Bill Gates, from the 2014 Gates Annual Letter, 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor

We all have those days when a generous dose of optimism can improve our outlook and make us feel that change for the better is possible. This is the just the kind of boost I received after reading the 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates.

The challenge of this year’s letter is to break down 3 Myths that Block Progress for the Poor:

  • Myth One: Poor countries are doomed to stay poor
  • Myth Two: Foreign aid is a big waste
  • Myth Three: Saving lives leads to overpopulation
“Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

Bill and Melinda Gates take on each of these myths and provide a convincing set of arguments to debunk them. Their point is not to sugarcoat the hard work that still must be done, step by incremental step, but to dispel the harmful, self-perpetuating, effects of these myths as impediments to progress. They challenge the stereotypes that too many of us hold when we think—if we think—about global poverty. Bill Gates wants to remove, as much as possible, the general sense of despair that many use as an excuse not to act at all: “Above all, I hope we can stop discussing whether aid works and spend more time talking about how it can work better.”

The Gates Annual Letter is addressed to civil society as a whole—particularly in the “high-income” countries—and explicitly sets out to change the conversation on foreign aid. By being transparent about challenges the Gates Foundation is facing in broadening support for foreign aid, the Annual Letter aims to make their goals and motivations clear, while inspiring others to join their cause. Bill and Melinda Gates’ openness to acknowledge preconceptions about foreign aid also invites more people into the conversation, rather than creating a silo of people who already agree with the Foundation’s approach to improving global health and development.

As one might expect from Gates, the letter is presented in an interactive, engaging format, full of videos, graphics and survey questions that draw you in and encourage you to respond positively. Go on and give it a look—and share your thoughts and comments with your Glasspockets community.

-- Mark Foley

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About Transparency Talk

  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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