Tackling Poverty Together

By Traver Kennedy, Chairman and CEO on February 28, 2017
Traver Kennedy
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Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter Gets Personal

This is our second time to champion the words that Bill and Melinda Gates share annually with the world this time of the year on their efforts to tackle poverty. The Gates’ Annual Letter is more than just an informal report on the progress of the world’s wealthiest charitable organization. It is a call to action for organizations of all kinds, so together, we can tackle the many issues that keep people in the developing world from reaping the fruits of progress we take for granted everywhere else. A long-lasting end to poverty needs to be tackled through teamwork between the organizations who can help fix the structural barriers that can prevent entire communities from falling back into hardship.

Bill and Melinda Gates dedicated this year’s letter to Warren Buffet. There is a good reason why, as stated in their words: “Ten years ago, when we first got word of your gift to the foundation, we were speechless. It was the biggest single gift anyone ever gave anybody for anything.” Together, the generosity of these two families has made what could be hyped as an “incalculable” impact in the world. Thankfully, there is no need for hype. The letter is written around the very specific metrics their collective work and investments have produced. This is a highly humanistic letter written around figures.  After all, Bill and Warren are business people; they think in numbers.

The Bottom Line: 122 Million Children Lives Saved in 25 Years

The Bill and Melinda Gates storyline for this year’s annual letter starts big and goes directly to what they call their “favorite number”—the decrease in mortality rates since 1990, which has saved 122 million children from dying. This big number is the bottom line they manage for: how can the Gates Foundation focus their efforts on making sure this number keeps growing, year after year? The clarity behind this number is powerful. It is their reason to exist, and because the economic muscle of their organization is so large, this figure directly relates to the measurable impact of their work.

This year’s letter expands on how their focus on five specific areas related to saving the lives of children—vaccines, newborn mortality, malnutrition, family planning, and women’s equality—affects the bottom line of 122 million children saved. Here’s the quick story of how they tackle and measure each of these issues:

  • 86% of children worldwide now receive vaccines (“Highest number ever.”)
  • 45% of children deaths occur in the first month of life (“Still too many.”)
  • 45% of children’s deaths are linked to malnutrition (“Nutrition is the biggest missed opportunity in global health.”)
  • 300 million women in the developed world use contraceptives (“The impact [of contraceptives] in saving life is fantastic.”)
  • 75 million women are involved in self-help groups in India alone (“We want to drive that number higher.”)

It Takes a Village

Without question, the Gates Foundation made a monumental contribution in saving these 122 million lives. However, having a life-saving impact on someone is the collective work of focusing on their lives as a whole. It is only a short-term gain if you save an eight-year-old with a vaccine if he dies next year because of armed conflict. Similarly, access to medical equipment to save a newborn is of no use if the village has no electricity for the doctors to use that equipment to perform life-saving procedures. Vaccines also have no effect on the bacteria that dehydrate children because they have no access to clean drinking water.

Bill and Melinda Gates are well aware of the need to collaborate to tackle the problem of child mortality. For example, here’s what they have to say regarding the need to work together on malnutrition: “Nutrition is still one of the biggest mysteries in global health. Nutrition gets better as a country gets richer, but unlike with newborn survival, there are no significant positive outliers—no poor countries with almost all of their children well nourished. That’s why we’re funding more research in this area and urging governments to do the same.”

The reason we write about the Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter every year is that we believe organizations, like Joi Scientific, have an important role to play in the effort to impact lives in the developing world. It does take a village to make a lasting impact. Our future role is to ensure that our Hydrogen 2.0 technology makes it to the people and places where it is most needed. In many instances, these are off-grid places where traditional electricity and carbon-free heat are not available. In developing economies, distributed Hydrogen 2.0 technology could be used to produce clean hydrogen fuel that can be converted into electric power on-site, 24/7. The by-product of this technology, clean water, can also be used in communities without access to drinking water.

Have a Plan, Join the Movement

Charitable organizations that have a clear vision and a plan to make it as real as the Gates Foundation change our world for the better. The Gates Foundation defines themselves as “impatient optimists working to reduce inequality” with a simple mission to “ensure more children and young people survive and thrive.”

From the beginning, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has teamed up with “impatient optimists” in other fields—from finance to government and energy—to make a dent in reducing the “inequality” that causes children in poor communities to die young. One of the “impatient optimists” is Warren Buffet, a genius in finance, to whom they dedicated this year’s letter. Mr. Buffet not only gave the children of the world the “greatest gift ever,” he gives the Gates Foundation advice and resources on what he knows best—how to create value.

Organizations of all kinds, including clean energy companies such as Joi Scientific, can learn from this approach to giving back. Tackling the world’s greatest challenges needs to be a movement. Will you join?


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