Annual Letter 2010
This is my second annual letter. The focus of this year’s letter is innovation and how it can make the difference between a bleak future and a bright one.
2009 was the first year my full-time work was as co-chair of the foundation, along with Melinda and my dad. It’s been an incredible year and I enjoyed having lots of time to meet with the innovators working on some of the world’s most important problems. I got to go out and talk with people making progress in the field, ranging from teachers in North Carolina to health workers fighting polio in India to dairy farmers in Kenya. 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. I love my new job and feel lucky to get to focus my time on these problems.
The global recession hit hard in 2009 and is a huge setback. The neediest suffer the most in a downturn. 2009 started with no one knowing how long the financial crisis would last and how damaging its effects would be. Looking back now, we can say that the market hit a bottom in March and that in the second half of the year the economy stopped shrinking and started to grow again. I talked to Warren Buffett, our co-trustee, more than ever this year to try to understand what was going on in the economy.
Although the acute financial crisis is over, the economy is still weak, and the world will spend a lot of years undoing the damage, which includes lingering unemployment and huge government deficits and debts at record levels. Later in the letter I’ll talk more about the effects of these deficits on governments’ foreign aid budgets. Despite the tough economy, I am still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead. A combination of scientific innovations and great leaders who are working on behalf of the world’s poorest people will continue to improve the human condition.
One particular highlight from the year came last summer, when I traveled to India to learn about innovative programs they have recently added to their health system. The health statistics from northern India are terrible—nearly 10 percent of children there die before the age of 5. In response, the Indian government is committed to increasing its focus and spending on health. On the trip I got to talk to Nitish Kumar, the chief minister of Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, and hear about some great work he is doing to improve vaccination rates. I also got to meet with Rahul Gandhi, who is part of a new generation of political leaders focused on making sure these investments are well spent. The foundation is considering funding measurement systems to help improve these programs. Rahul was very frank in saying that right now a lot of the money is not getting to the intended recipients and that it won’t be easy to fix. His openness was refreshing, since many politicians won’t say anything that might discourage a donor from giving more. He explained how organizing local groups, primarily of women, and making sure they watch over the spending is one tactic he has seen make a big difference. The long-term commitment to measuring results and improving the delivery systems that I heard from him and other young politicians assured me that health in India will improve substantially in the decade ahead.