As I may have mentioned before, I am a board member for UNICEF and the issues of global health, particularly for children, are near and dear to my heart. So it is with enormous admiration and appreciation that I read the 2017 Annual Letter sent this week by Bill and Melinda Gates.
I love the backstory on how the Foundation started. In 1997, Bill and Melinda Gates read a newspaper article about millions of children in poor countries who die from diseases long eliminated in the U.S. They sent a copy of the article to Bill Gates Sr. with a note: “Dad, maybe we can do something about this.” The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000.
As world leaders in philanthropy, the Gates Foundation today supports grantees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 100 countries worldwide. “In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people–especially those with the fewest resources–have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.”
The Foundation Trust Endowment is currently $39.6 billion. Since inception (through Q4 2015), the Foundation has issued grants totaling $36.7 billion. In 2015, for example, grantees received $4.2 billion. Included in the Foundation’s funding is an annual distribution from a $30 billion gift by Warren Buffett that doubled the Foundation’s resources. The Gates letter marks the 10-year anniversary of Buffet’s gift and is addressed to him. You can read the full text of the letter online. Here are a few highlights:
- Over the past 25 years, “122 million children under age five have been saved…. These are children who would have died if mortality rates had stayed where they were in 1990.”
- Recalling a lunch at McDonald’s in Hong Kong where Buffet used coupons to save a little money, Gates notes how Buffet values “a good deal” and goes on to say, “Saving children’s lives is the best deal in philanthropy.”
- The Foundation has focused on universal access to vaccines: “For every dollar spent on childhood immunizations, you get $44 in economic benefits.” That includes the child’s health, which impacts the child’s ability to attend school, and the reduction of healthcare expenses and lost work time for parents.
- “Last year , about one million infants died on the day they were born. A total of more than 5 million died in their first month of life.” This figure is not tied to wealth, so the Foundation supports critical research to find out the causes of infant mortality.
- The Foundation also funds projects that study and/or improve nutrition, family planning, and opportunity for women (“Poverty is sexist. The poorer the society, the less power women have.”).
- ” ‘All lives have equal value’ is not just a principle; it’s a strategy.”
- Empathy and optimism are essential in the pursuit of global health.
- The magic number is zero. “This is the number we’re striving toward every day at the foundation. Zero malaria. Zero TB. Zero HIV. Zero malnutrition. Zero preventable deaths. Zero difference between the health of a poor kid and every other kid.” “Polio is closest to reaching this magic number…. By the late 1970s, with the help of vaccines, the United States eliminated polio, but it still raged around the world. In 1988, when the global campaign was launched to end polio, there were 350,000 new cases each year. Last year, there were 37.”
Calling this vigorous pursuit of global health “an ecosystem of partners,” the Gates letter closes with a hearty endorsement of the Foundation’s partnership with UNICEF, and an unprecedented call-to-action: “People ask us all the time how they can help in the fight against child mortality–and we are always proud to recommend making a donation to UNICEF, an organization that is successful at serving families and children worldwide.”
I am so tremendously impressed by the visionary leadership of Bill and Melinda Gates and hope that you, too, will support the cause of global health with a donation to UNICEF.