The 2020 Gates Letter, marking the 20th anniversary of the Gates Foundation, dropped this week. Each year, the Gates annual letter makes an argument for what, why, and how we should invest to make the most meaningful impact on the world. It paints a portrait of where the world has been, where it currently is, and where it can go with the right action.
This year, the letter takes on the theme of “swinging for the fences,” which is advice given to them by partner Warren Buffet. The meaning is simple: put everything you have into your goal. It may not always work, but when it does, the reward will be game-changing.
Here are four key takeaways from this year’s letter:
1. Investments in health pay off.
“…improvements in health are key to lifting people out of poverty. As people become healthier, their lives improve in other ways. And the world becomes better and more equal as a result.”
The Gates Foundation began on a central mission to improve global health. In that time, the foundation has stayed committed to that mission through two main partnerships: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Since its founding, investments in Gavi have made an immense difference in the health of the world through saving millions of lives and lowering the cost of vaccination. As a result, 86% of the world’s children are vaccinated. Though reaching the last 14% will be an uphill battle, it is a battle worth fighting.
“As Gavi raises funds for its next five years of work, we want to encourage more donors to commit to extending this incredible success story to all children. More funding will allow Gavi to save more lives. We think going big on Gavi was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made—and we’re thrilled with the return we’ve seen on our investment.”
Like Gavi, the Global Fund has saved millions of lives through its work to combat HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria. The work on fighting these diseases will continue, as well, with the focus now on long-term prevention and causes specific to gender.
But why invest in health at all? Aside from being the right thing to do, good global health benefits us all.
As the letter explains: “…improvements in health are key to lifting people out of poverty. As people become healthier, their lives improve in other ways. And the world becomes better and more equal as a result.”
2. There’s no one solution to education.
While the world has seen great improvements to global health in recent years, the same can’t be said for education. Improving education poses a more difficult challenge to the Gates Foundation, which focuses on K-12 education in the U.S.
Global health, in many ways, is straightforward; vaccines, medicine, and treatments are rooted in science with little variation. Education, however, is subject to variation on what works and what doesn’t for different kids and different areas.
“It became clear to us that scaling in education doesn’t mean getting the same solution out to everyone.”
“…if there’s one lesson we’ve learned about education after 20 years, it’s that scaling solutions is difficult. Much of our early work in education seemed to hit a ceiling … It became clear to us that scaling in education doesn’t mean getting the same solution out to everyone. Our work needed to be tailored to the specific needs of teachers and students in the places we were trying to reach.”
While Gates works primarily on US education, these lessons are applicable globally. One-size-fits-all approaches to education don’t work anywhere and improving education demands a tailored approach. Understanding the local context around why children are not receiving an education is crucial to improving education worldwide.
3. Farmers need more support.
As the world becomes warmer, we will need to figure out how to deal with the impact. This is especially true for farmers.
“We need to reduce the number of children who become malnourished and improve the odds that people who do suffer from malnutrition survive.”
Increased risk of droughts, floods, disease, and pests pose immense threats to those working in agriculture. This will affect not only the livelihood of farmers, but of the communities that depend on their crops. Without solutions, the world risks higher levels of malnutrition among children. This has secondary effects of its own, including impacts on global health.
“We need to reduce the number of children who become malnourished and improve the odds that people who do suffer from malnutrition survive. That means making sure that people have access not only to the nutrients they need but also to proven interventions like vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics.”
4. Gender equality can’t wait.
Nowhere in the world are women equal. This reality is as disheartening as it is factual, as proven by the persistent gender gaps that exist worldwide. Issues like access to education and health, economic and political empowerment, child marriage, and decision-making power continue to affect women and girls everywhere.
“We need to be loud and clear that the reason these problems look unsolvable is that we’ve never put the necessary effort into solving them.”
Despite these realities, gender equality has not been — and currently is not — a priority for world leaders. This year, we’ll have an opportunity to bring the issue to the world stage at the 25th Anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women. In 1995, this conference resulted in a robust plan for achieving women’s rights globally. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford not to take.
“If we miss another opportunity, if we let the spotlight sputter out again, we risk contributing to a dangerous narrative that inequality between men and women is inevitable. We need to be loud and clear that the reason these problems look unsolvable is that we’ve never put the necessary effort into solving them.”
Melinda Gates offers three solutions that need to happen together to affect change: fast-track women into critical leadership positions, dismantle gender-specific barriers, and bring more people into the conversation to change societal norms and expectations. Each of these actions is critical, because equality can’t wait any longer.
Turning words to action
This year, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to act on these crucial issues. There’s another whole year until the next Gates Letter, and we have the power to shape what’s in it. With these takeaways in mind, it’s time to take action and do some truly note-worthy things.