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Glasspockets Find: 2012 Annual Letter from Bill Gates
February 2, 2012

Gates Foundation Annual LetterBill Gates speaks candidly about his work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in his fourth Annual Letter. As a tool for transparency, the letter is a unique glimpse into the mind of a foundation donor, revealing Gates' critical thinking with respect to the foundation's activity, what has worked, what setbacks have been encountered, and what lessons have been learned by the foundation and its partners and grantees. The need for innovation continues to be a central element to his thinking. This year's letter is an argument for making the choice to keep on helping extremely poor people build self-sufficiency." The foundation will continue to encourage innovation in areas, including agriculture and public health, "where there is less profit opportunity but where the impact for those in need is very high."

Gates devotes a significant portion of this year's annual letter to innovation in agriculture. This is clearly an area that he believes holds great promise to improve the lives of billions of people in a relatively short period of time with rather modest commitments of resources. He cites many reasons for optimism, including exciting new understanding of plant genes that should greatly accelerate the pace of agricultural innovation.

Most of the foundation's resources go to global health issues. He shares many positive developments in this area, including a milestone in the fight to eradicate polio: on January 13, 2012, India marked its first anniversary of being polio-free. This was a huge accomplishment, calling for the coordination of many players. The effort reveals many lessons that will hopefully lead to successful campaigns in the three countries where the virus remains endemic-Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

The foundation's domestic work focuses on U.S. education. Here, Gates is impressed by the technique of peer evaluation among teachers that has been tested in the Tampa, Florida, school district and hopes it may serve as a model that can be replicated. Interestingly, the concept of learning from one's peers arises again when Gates later discusses the first of what will be an annual meeting of those who have taken the Giving Pledge. He would like to focus attention on how the web can be used to allow "givers of all sizes to connect to causes and see the results of their giving."

One of the perennial challenges that Gates admits facing is the common belief that development money is wasteful or doesn't produce lasting results. But he is "convinced that when people hear stories of the lives they've helped improve, they want to do more, not less." Given this, Gates attempts to put into perspective the news that some of the money provided to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was diverted for corrupt purposes. The Gates foundation is the largest non-governmental donor to the Global Fund.

Gates concludes by making a plea for continued funding from the world's wealthiest nations, even in challenging economic times, for development that benefits the world's poorest. A "relatively small amount of money invested in development," in his words, "has changed the future prospects of billions of people-and it can do the same for billions more if we make the choice to continue investing in innovation."

To read or download the letter (available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, and Spanish), click here.

Those interested may send feedback about the annual letter to

Tweet using #billsletter to join the conversation. Follow Bill Gates on Twitter: @BillGates.

-- Mark Foley


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  • 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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