Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

10 Key Takeaways From Bill Gates' Annual Letter

February 06, 2013

Post originally published on Mashable Social Good by Zoe Fox. 

Bill Gates' 2013 Annual Letter highlighted the power of data and measurement to help lift the world's most needy up from poverty.

This year's letter was presented through an interactive experience fit with shareable quotations, embedded films and infographics. You can also view photos of Gates and his wife Melinda's work around the world, from meeting with high school students in Denver to visiting agricultural facilities in Ethiopia.

"In previous annual letters, I've focused a lot on the power of innovation to reduce hunger, poverty, and disease," Gates writes, explaining this year's focus. "But any innovation — whether it's a new vaccine or an improved seed — can't have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it. That's why in this year's letter I discuss how innovations in measurement are critical to finding new, effective ways to deliver these tools and services to the clinics, family farms, and classrooms that need them."

The Microsoft founder still considers technology to be at the core of improving measurement systems.

"Thanks to cell phones, satellites, and cheap sensors, we can gather and organize data with increasing speed and accuracy," he wrote.

10 Key Takeaways From Gates' Annual Letter:

  • 1. Pick the Right Measures: "I think a lot of efforts fail because they don't focus on the right measure or they don't invest enough in doing it accurately."

  • 2. Establish Clear and Concrete Goals: "Many people assumed the [Millenium Development Goals] pact would be filed away and forgotten like so many U.N. and government pronouncements. However, since the goals were clear and concrete, they brought focus to the highest priorities."

  • 3. Learn From Success Cases: "Ethiopia found a successful model for achieving this goal in the Indian state of Kerala, which had lowered its child mortality rate and improved a host of other health indicators, in part through a vast network of community health care posts. This is one of the benefits of measurement — the ability it gives government leaders to make comparisons across countries, find who's doing well, and then learn from the best."

  • 4. Maternal Health Has Improved: "According to a long-held Ethiopian custom, parents wait to name their children because disease is rampant, health care is sparse, and children often die in the first weeks of life ... But a lot has changed in Ethiopia since the birth of Sebsebila's first child. This time, with more confidence in her new baby's chances of survival, Sebsebila didn't hesitate to name her."

  • 5. Accurate Measurements Are Crucial: "Setting targets for immunization and other interventions can motivate government health workers, but it can also encourage over-reporting to avoid problems with supervisors."

  • 6. Every Case Counts: "The number of global polio cases has been under 1,000 cases for the last two years, but getting rid of the very last few cases is the hardest part."

  • 7. Technology Brings Accountability: "Tracks are downloaded from the phone to a laptop at the end of the day so managers can see the route the vaccinators followed and compare it to the route they were assigned."

  • 8. Feedback Breeds Success: "The Eagle County system is impressive because it focuses on helping each teacher grow. The evaluations are used to give a teacher not only a score but also specific feedback on areas to improve and ways to build on their strengths."

  • 9. We Can Only Move Forward: "Once these tools are invented, they are never un-invented — they just improve."

  • 10. Challenges Are Still Ahead: "Two that worry me the most are the possibility that we won't be able to raise the funds needed to pay for health and development projects, and that we won't align around clear goals to help the poorest."

 
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