By Ruth Brook
Twenty years and $53.8 billion dollars in, Bill and Melinda Gates are reflecting on the last two decades of the work done through their foundation – The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation – in their 12th annual letter, released Monday.
The 2020 letter celebrated the last twenty years of the foundation’s existence and the significant progress it has made to alleviate poverty and tackle health issues around the world. This year’s edition, penned by the couple, focused on global health, education, climate change and gender inequality.
The letter gave a breakdown of the titanic sum, revealing that of the $53.8 billion, 45% was allocated to global development, 29% to global health, 16% to US programs and 10% to other charities.
“At the core of our foundation’s work is the idea that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life,” wrote Bill and Melinda Gates. “Twenty years later, despite how much things have changed, that is still our most important driving principle.”
The letter, titled “Why we swing for the fences”, touches on the last two decades of the foundations work and achievements as well as the setbacks, disappointments and surprises. The title was inspired by billionaire Warren Buffet’s advice to the couple to ‘swing for the fences’ and put their all their efforts and resources behind large scale endeavors to improve lives worldwide.
“When you swing for the fences, you’re putting every ounce of strength into hitting the ball as far as possible,” the couple wrote in their letter. “You know that your bat might miss the ball entirely–but that if you succeed in making contact, the rewards can be huge.”
This is the approach the foundation is taking moving forward, they wrote.
The Gates foundation first made their footprint in Ethiopia in 2000 with grants to support partners’ efforts to improve health and education in Ethiopia. The foundation has more than $265 million in grants to benefit the country. In 2012, the foundation appointed a representative in Addis Ababa to facilitate partnerships with key stakeholders in government, NGO’s and the private sector.
Ethiopia has made great strides in alleviating poverty in the country with a decrease of 46% in poverty rates since 2000. Child stunting rates from malnutrition have also decreased by 25% since 1990. While the country has witnessed improvements, there is still work to be done. Roughly four in ten Ethiopian children are at risk of never fulfilling their potential due to malnutrition. The under-five mortality rate has decreased by two-thirds since 1990 and estimates of maternal mortality are 191 per 100,000.
Melinda wrote “We’ll fund new advances in family planning and maternal and newborn health, and we’ll explore new ways of preventing the scourge of malnutrition. That’s because improvements in health are key to lifting people out of poverty.”
Advancements in agriculture are one of the driving forces behind Ethiopia’s developments. The sector is the cornerstone of Ethiopia’s economy and accounts for 65% of employment and 31 % of the country’s GDP.
However the downturn in climate change coupled with the perpetual increase of Ethiopia’s population means farmers are being pushed to drier areas where crops are harder to grow. This predicament leaves food supplies at risk and puts an obstacle in the way of the country’s progress.
“I’m also hopeful that our foundation’s work on agriculture will play a key role in helping farmers withstand climate change. Over a decade ago, we began funding research into drought- and flood-tolerant varieties of staple crops like maize and rice. These new varieties are already helping farmers grow more food in some parts of Africa and India, and more climate-smart crop options will become available in more places in the years to come,” Bill wrote.
The letter concluded on a positive note with the couple signing off optimistic for the future of their foundation.
“When we first started this work, we were optimistic about the power of innovation to drive progress—and excited about the role we could play by taking risks to unlock it. Twenty years later, we’re just as optimistic—and we’re still swinging for the fences.”