Bill, Melinda, Warren

By | March 10, 2017

I recently read the 2017 Gates Foundation annual letter.  It starts with this alarming and kitschy picture. Whoa – this caught my attention.

Huge fan of Warren Buffett – for his intellect, quirkiness, and generosity. In 2006, Buffett donated $31B to the Gates foundation – the biggest gift in history. Remember, he could just as easily donated to his own foundation – but he put his money and trust in Bill and Melinda Gates. Big man.

Warren wrote Bill and Melinda a letter hereHe asked Bill and Melinda how his “investment” was doing. He asked what progress his donation had made in the their group effort to improve lives.

The Gates responded to Warren’s request, with an interview style response that looked like this.  Bill says something. Melinda says something

There are also several BOLD, COLORFUL numbers like the one below. These are some of the metrics that they use to challenge themselves and gauge their success.  This reply is worth reading, but here are some good ones.

This is amazing too. Global vaccination coverage was only 20% in 1980. That is shocking, and what major progress we (the world) has made since then. Truly, it is a less horrible time to live – than ever.

There are best practices.  They note that Rwanda cut infant mortality by 30% from 2008-2015. That is Ah-mazing.  Mali and Rwanda have similar income levels, and yet, Rwanda are saving their babies through decidedly low-tech means: more breast-feeding, sterile umbilical cord cutting, etc . . .

What more is there to say.  There is more than enough food to feed the world, and yet, 1 in 8 people globally are undernourished.  This is true even in the US, even though we have a huge obesity problem at the same time.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, and that makes me reflect on the point that Bill and Melinda made here. Poverty is sexist. The poorer the society – often times – the worse women are treated. This has a doubly nasty effect because it is often the women who are the economic engines of the family – providing shelter, water, clothing, healthcare, child-rearing etc. Educating and empowering women and girls – well – improves everything.

All these numbers and messages are so important. As corporate people – we get caught up a lot in our white-collar careers and intellectual Economist reading (trust me, I am as guilty as anyone), but it’s good to pause, reflect, and be thankful. Thankful for what we have. Thankful for how much the world is getting better. Lots of fear-mongering out there – so, don’t watch too much local news. Instead, spend that time on slow thinking and helping to build a relationship, or solve a problem.

The last graph, they added was this one. Very optimistic message:

Worth your time: Gates Foundation 2017 annual letter

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9 thoughts on “Bill, Melinda, Warren

  1. Anders Torp

    Great post. It’s so easy to forget to look at our progress in the world and not just look at all the bad stuff.

    If you’re not already familiar with Hans Rosling (who unfortunately passed away recently) I think you’ll like his project that is dedicated to fight misconceptions about global development with statistics. Maybe start with one of his Youtube videos or TEDTalks.

    And really enjoy your thoughts and blog by the way!


    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Thank you for reading – yes, I saw one of his TED talks many years ago. I recall him telling the development story as the graphics were animated, and it sounded like an Olympic race. Yes, heard he passed away recently. Economist did an obituary on him here.

      Will definitely look at the website.

  2. Larry

    Thank you for posting. It is so important for us to know that progress, albeit slow, is being made. It is the positive energy from what the foundation and like philanthropies are doing that enables us to grow opportunities to build a better, healthier, friendlier planet.

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Completely agree. Positive energy is contagious, in short supply, and needed.

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Hello – well written and argued. Agree with many of your points. Your point about technology, behavior, politics, and institutions are all fair. For me, I noticed in the letter that the very macro metrics (e.g., drop of children mortality etc. . . ) is correlated, not causal because of the work they do. As a lay-person, it requires a LOT more digging around to see how their inputs (money, expertise, passion, network) lead to outputs.

      That said, it’s also reductionist to think that the Gates Foundation’s scope is to handle every thing. It is not. They are solving for a specific set of issues, with a specific point of view. Being a privately funded operation – that is their freedom, and privilege. They are not using tax payers money.

      I would argue that is why they will likely be more successful long-term. They have a goal, a set of activities that reinforce it, and have the scale/prestige/money/network/funding to cut above the noise and make progress.

      Finally, behavior – incredibly hard to change. Politics – incredibly hard to change. Institutions – incredibly hard to change. All are needed (YES), but it is also a matter of their scope.

      Love this level of conversation and your passion to make things better. Thank you for reading.

      1. Suvojit

        Mostly agree…my response was basically divided into two – the second part was on the missing words – behaviour, politics and institutions. It is an old criticism, and while I agree these are hard to change, they will determine to a large extent the degree of sustainable change they are able to drive. The first (and the more important) part of the critique was about how they seemingly confuse “their impact” with global progress. And to put it one way, if Buffett was really asking them, “tell me what you did with my money”, their answers are way below adequate…

        1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

          Yes, gotcha. Agreed. Seems like $31B would buy you a more detailed response, right? Also, I guess this is more marketing. . . Buffett sits on the board of the foundation – and he gets plenty of insights, whenever he wants, I imagine.

          In terms of sustainability – completely agree about politics, institutions and behavior. Change has to STICK to really make a difference. I see that in my consulting work all the time. . . GREAT IDEAS. . . ZERO EXECUTION.

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