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Does the Gates’ Letter 2017 answer Warren Buffett’s questions?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on their work in global development, the challenges they face, and their goals for the future. These letters are a manifesto for their philanthropic work, most of which is channelled through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates structured their 2017 Annual Letter as a response to Warren Buffet’s (CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.) letter to Melinda and Bill Gates, where he asked them to reflect on their work so far – on what had gone well, and what hadn’t; and to describe their goals for the future. He further said:

There are many who want to know where you’ve come from, where you’re heading and why. I also believe it’s important that people better understand why success in philanthropy is measured differently from success in business or government. Your letter might explain how the two of you measure yourselves and how you would like the final scorecard to read.

Buffet’s questions assume great significance given that in 2006, he pledged to donate 85% of his wealth to charity, and allotted a sum of about $31 billion to the Gates Foundation. These questions, from one of the most successful investor of our times, are essentially about how well his philanthropic investment in the Gates Foundation was doing. What had he helped them achieve?

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

What Future For Emerging Markets?
Foreign Policy
Long before the current market debacle, I was confronted with a fundamental question about emerging markets. As I was finishing off my course at the Yale School of Management on “The Future of Global Finance” this past May, a student came up to me. “You have gone to great lengths to emphasize the role of emerging markets in a changing monetary system, “ he said, “ but everything I have been reading says that the era of the Brazils, the Indias, the Turkeys, the Indonesias as up-and-comers is history. Even China seems to have lost its luster. Have you been looking backwards and not forward?”

How Africa can benefit from the data revolution
The Guardian
The UN has estimated that across the world more people have access to mobile phones than to toilets. It is of course distressing to imagine what this means for many people’s exposure to disease and access to clean water, but the choice of mobile phone for the comparative statistic actually offers a great deal of hope. The mobile phone is part of a phenomenon where a new infrastructure is emerging, one that could bring the economic changes that enable those toilets to be built.  Our modern infrastructure is based on information. Since the 1950s, investment in data storage and distribution by companies and countries has been massive. Historically, data was centralised a single database. Perhaps one for representing the health of a nation, and another database for monitoring social security. However, the advent of the internet is showing that many of our existing data systems are no longer fit for purpose.
 

Technology Alone Will Not Save the World: Lessons from the 2015 Gates Letter

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Melinda and Bill Gates have made an annual tradition of publishing their thoughts on international development and its key challenges. Given the substance, I assume these letters reflect an annual manifesto for the organisation they head, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Last year, I wrote about how the Gates Annual Letter was disappointing, perhaps not in the context of what the BMGF itself does, but what it ought to be doing, given its $42 bn muscle and its influential promoter, Bill Gates.

This year, the letter makes four “big bets” for 2030: child deaths will go down by half, and more diseases will be eradicated than ever before; Africa will be able to feed itself; mobile banking will help the poor radically transform their lives; and better software will revolutionise learning. In short, fast-tracking the identification ­technological fixes and expanding their reach over the next fifteen years will deliver a better world.

Unfortunately, these bets seem to me to be wildly optimistic. I may be quibbling, but from what we have learnt from research, there seem to be many reasons to suggest that we should be cautious with our optimism regarding what we can achieve with technology. The complexities of working on power, politics and implementation find no mention in the letter. Let us look a little more closely at each one of the bets to find out why that matters so much.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Mapping Digital Media: Global Findings
Open Society Foundation
Is a world where there are almost as many mobile phones as people, more than half the globe can access digital TV signals, and almost 3 billion people are online a better place for journalism?  The Global Findings of the Mapping Digital Media project assess these and other forces affecting digital media and independent journalism worldwide. Researched and written by a team of local experts, the 56 country reports, from which these Global Findings are drawn, examine the communication and media environments in 15 of the world’s 20 most populous countries, covering more than 4.5 billion of the world’s population, and in 16 of the world’s 20 largest economies.
 
Global Inequality: What to Address?
Huffington Post
We normally would not expect a seven-hundred-page scholarly tomb full of numbers and figures written by an academic to become an international bestseller. The success of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty indicates that the public discontent caused by the rising inequality in the modern capitalist societies may have reached a boiling point. The debate surrounding Capital has been intensely polarizing, inciting passionate responses from the intelligentsia of both the Left and the Right.