Every year around this time our attention here at Glasspockets shifts to a super-scale analysis of goals, touchdowns, wagers, and keeping the ball moving down the field. That’s right—it’s time for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letter! The Super Bowl metaphor is an apt one, as this letter makes transparent the thinking and strategies behind the world’s largest philanthropy, so the stakes are high as the letter, in a very visible way, outlines the foundation’s playbook, what it’s tackling, and progress toward its ultimate goals. And the letter comes from the donors themselves, which contributes to breaking down barriers between its global stakeholders and the people behind the philanthropic institution.
In past letters, one of the things I have particularly appreciated was the Gates’ reflections on lessons learned, which often included both successes and missteps. In many ways, this letter is a departure from that model as instead of using the letter as an opportunity to make the recent past transparent, the letter instead uses the experience and lessons the foundation has been learning to open our eyes to the possible future of the developing world.
It’s a risk to try and see into the future, so it’s fitting that the letter is titled Our Big Bet for the Future, and outlines how they are “doubling down” on the wager that they took when they started the foundation 15 years ago and, based on the progress made so far, making ambitious goals for what is possible 15 years from now. The “Big Bet” specifically is that “the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.” And the specific outcomes they predict will result are:
- Child deaths will go down, and more diseases will be wiped out.
- Africa will be able to feed itself.
- Mobile banking will help the poor transform their lives.
- Better software will revolutionize learning.
The letter also departs from previous ones by acting as a call to action for others to get involved. This is a reminder that when donors are transparent it helps them influence others and serves to create a movement for change. In fact, the Gates’ letter concludes with directing readers to join the Global Citizen initiative, which offers people the chance to take action to end injustice and inequality in the world.
“Becoming a global citizen doesn’t mean you have to dedicate your life to helping the poor. It does mean you follow an issue of global importance…You take a few minutes once in a while to learn about the lives of people who are worse off than you are…You’re willing to act on your compassion, whether it’s raising awareness, volunteering your time, or giving a little money.”
Philanthropy is a team sport, and this year’s letter make it clear that the problems and solutions they are working toward are larger than any foundation alone can tackle. But by making transparent a future in which the end to extreme poverty is within our reach, they are contributing to building a team and a final score for which we all can root.
(Janet Camarena is the director of Foundation Center’s San Francisco office and leads the Center’s Glasspockets effort.)