Bill Gates Issues Second Annual Letter

Bill Gates has issued his second annual letter as full-time co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Associated Press reports.

In the fourteen-page letter (14 pages, PDF), Gates argues that investments in science and technology are crucial to leveraging the limited dollars available to help the world's poor, noting that such investments can make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone. He also points out that his foundation funds thirty areas of innovation, including online learning, teacher improvement, malaria vaccine development, HIV prevention, and genetically modified seeds. "Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded," Gates writes. "This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation's size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches."

The former Microsoft CEO admitted that the foundation's ambitious goals are proving harder to meet than expected. Although vaccine development is progressing, the cost to provide those vaccines to the poor is a challenge. And although bed nets are helping to reduce malaria deaths in Africa, the disease continues to spread in some areas of the world. As a result, the foundation has resorted to a costly and somewhat-scattershot approach to meeting its goal of eradicating malaria by funding many researchers pursuing many different ideas.

Gates expressed concern that budget deficits in the world's richest nations could lead to a reduction in foreign aid, while at the same time applauding the efforts of Canada, Australia, and the United States to increase their aid budgets. He also acknowledged that the foundation has not yet found a way to play a unique role in the fight against climate change and noted that he is devoting a portion of his own funds to investing in energy research.

Gates also noted how much he enjoys his new job, describing visits around the world to talk to scientists, politicians, teachers, farmers, and people doing the work of the foundation. "Seeing the work firsthand reminds me of how urgent the needs are as well as how challenging it is to get all the right pieces to come together," he said. "I love my new job and feel lucky to get to focus my time on these problems."

Donna Gordon Blankinship. "Bill Gates Says Innovation Can Leverage Change." Associated Press 01/25/2010.