Re: the Gates’ annual letter

March 8, 2019

I think 2018 was quite a year for everyone. And even though we’re well into March, there is always time to reflect upon the previous year. For me, 2018 brought lots of highs and lows, but it was ultimately a huge learning experience, and it has helped shape me into the person that I am today.

Since discovering Bill and Melinda Gates’ annual letter that they have been sending out for over a decade now, I have always been curious to see how some of the richest people in the world have grown over the past year. It amazes me the impact that the Gates’ Foundation has on society and their constant philanthropic commitments to all their endeavors for the benefit of the whole planet.

This year for their letter, the Gates’s analyzed nine things that surprised them this year. “We believe in a world where innovation is for everyone—where no child dies from a disease it’s possible to prevent,” they said at the beginning of the letter on their website. “But what we saw was a world still shaped by inequality. That discovery was one of the most important steps in our journey to philanthropy. We were surprised, then we were outraged, then we were activated.”

Some of the things that are among these top nine are very surprising, so prepare yourself.

Africa is the youngest continent

Africa is young. Like really young. The average age of an individual in North America, according to the Gates, is 35 years old. Talk about existential crises. The median age in Africa is 18!

And they predict that this age will continue to stay the same, or even lower depending on how their society progresses. And the Gates hope that “the right investments will unlock the continent’s enormous potential. Young Africans will shape the future of not only their own communities but the entire world.”

M. Gates cited studies that show that better educated women raise healthier children. And I can’t agree with this more. Everyone should be able to get an equal amount of education, or at least an education that makes someone self-sufficient. If women stay in school and get a good education, it decreases their risk for teenage pregnancy.

At-home DNA tests can find serial killers and prevent premature births

It honestly amazes me how much technology has advanced for the short-ish time I’ve been on this planet. And while it amazes me, it also really scares me. While the Zodiac Killer is still at large, a lesser known murderer, the Golden State Killer, is no longer at large. And he was caught in the most interesting way: Through his DNA. Officials ordered a DNA test on a sample from the Golden State Killer and matched him to his distant relative. The magic of science, people.

DNA research has also impacted the medical field. Through the 40,000 samples that 23andMe has voluntarily collected over the years, researchers have found a potential link between preterm labor and six genes in the body. This essentially means that children could be born premature just because of six small genes in their body. Even though this has both unethical and scientific potential, it should be noted how advancements of medicine can make a lasting impact.

M. Gates also highlighted how little we know about prematurity, both the effects on the mother and the effects on the child. Even though it affects 10 percent of the female population, it is one of the most understudied aspects of medicine.

We will build an entire NYC every month

On to the topic that I love to talk about and get frustrated by so much: Climate change. Fun fact of the day, a lot of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) that are spread into the atmosphere are because of methane. You might ask, where does that methane come from? “Bovine flatulence,” according to B. Gates. But to us lay people, cow farts. Just cow farts.

But voicing the similar opinions of the Gates’, “The largest point is that if we’re going to solve climate change, we need to get near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it—agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, ad buildings.”

Raising awareness on an issue can only go so far. Action is required to make things happen in a society that is so set in their ways. Individuals like Greta Thunberg, a sixteen-year-old climate activist in Sweden, are amongst those leading the pact in taking action to question why nothing is being done about climate change.

But on the other side of it, if we don’t decrease the amount of nonrenewable energy and increase renewable energy that is used, we will most likely not see the Earth at the end of the millenium.

And leave it to the Gates Foundation to help fund these solutions and invest in the companies working towards the aforementioned sectors to save the planet without destroying the climate. B. Gates talked about how the European Commission recently committed to invest in research and development in the five sectors and how Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a one billion dollar private fund, is challenging its investors to guide investments in clean-energy companies.

Data can be sexist

Data is flowing all around us in different ways. Whether that be Facebook conspiracies or Google tracking your every step on social media, data is all around us. And M. Gates really demonstrated how there is a clear artificial divide in data that distinguishes men from women.

“Data leads to better decisions and better policies. It helps us create goals and measures progress. It enables advocacy and accountability,” according to M. Gates. But she highlighted a group of individuals that are working towards a unification of gender data distribution.

M. Gates talked about her personal experiences visiting Nairobi and seeing firsthand how women are treated differently in all pockets of society but how every woman still matters, and someone in the world cares for her.

She also talked about the lack of equality in society and how society should be a reflection of the values of all individuals that make up that society. “What we choose to measure is a reflection of what society values,” M. Gates said. “That’s why when it comes to understanding the lives of women and girls, the world can’t accept ‘I don’t know’ as an answer.”

You can learn a lot about processing your anger from teenage boys

Maybe puberty isn’t the worst thing in the world after all. The Gates’ visited a Georgia state prison, and while talking to inmates, realized that a lot of people who get locked up from a young age ultimately ended in prison because they made one bad decision that ended up spiraling.

However, the Becoming a Man (BAM) program has been implemented to help alleviate the number of boys that face the fate of many men who are currently incarcerated. Similar to the show “Scared Straight,” which took at-risk youth into prisons to convince them to change, BAM explores a more emotional connection and learning to deal with one’s anger.

There’s a nationalist case for globalism

I’m not one for politics, ask any of my friends, but I can appreciate it from afar. Being major philanthropists, both Gates firmly believe that global engagement is part of our patriotic duty as a country.

M. Gates highlighted the fact that our country invests in foreign aid because it helps not only increase the stability of countries around the world but also security at home. Being at war is never a fun time, but the people fighting for our country help keep us safe here back in the United States and not at war. “There is nothing about putting your country first that requires turning your back on the rest of the world,” noted M. Gates.

B. Gates also spoke to the major health efforts that the Gates Foundation has been a part of and how the government should also commit to the fund. The Global Fund, founded in 2002, was created to help combat AIDS, T.B. and malaria, which has helped over 27 million people since their founding.

According to the letter, rich countries like the United States spend 0.1 percent of their budget on health aid, which is so little. Why be so adamant about helping millions of people who do not live with the same luxuries as we do?

When was the modern flush toilet patented?

The evolution of the toilet was one of the last things that I expected to be in the letter, and yet here we are. It was shocking to find out the horror stories that people in developing countries go through just to go to the bathroom. I’m dying if I have to hold it for an hour. Imagine having to hold it for an entire day while you are up and about just to avoid the public humiliation that may come with it. According to the Gates Foundation, more than two billion people lack access to a decent toilet, and this kills nearly 800 kids every day.

Some of the newest toilets that are hopefully hitting the market soon are ones that are completely self-contained and are able to kill pathogens and safely dispose of waste on its own. This will save all the kids who are dying due to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. Some of the waste is even converted to fertilizer and water for handwashing!

M. Gates also brought in the feminine perspective that sanitary toilets are necessary for girls who are going to school who may be on their period. No one should have to skip school because they don’t have access to a decent toilet.

Textbooks are becoming obsolete

It is no secret that education in the United States, and the world, is shifting away from textbooks and more towards technology. These new advancements allow not only for a new approach to learning but also in the ways teachers are able to teach their students. No longer are we confined to textbooks but more interactive platforms that make education more bearable, especially for the younger generations.

If I could go to school and play on an iPad and still learn about climate change and learn my multiplication tables, I would have been much more happy about it. Coming out of this is also the transition to more “nontraditional” college students.

Let’s face it. College is open to everyone, regardless of age, and the typical person that is seen as a college student is shifting. Yes, it is still a majority of young adults coming right out of high school, but colleges are also starting to see a lot of older individuals coming back to school to finish their degrees. Which is great!

These greater shifts toward technology are helping to redesign higher education and meeting the needs of today’s student, especially relating to the topic of accessibility on college campuses.

Mobile Phones are the most powerful in the hands of the poorest women

“Connectivity is a solution to marginalization,” said M. Gates in the letter. As a society so focused on technology and staying connected through technology, I could not imagine being in a community in which technology is inaccessible.

They highlighted different opportunities mobile phones have that allow women to challenge typical social norms and decrease the gender equality gap that is very apparent in developing countries.

M. Gates spoke about Go-Jek, an app created in Indonesia that gives women the opportunity to have their own personal incomes, so women are able to be independent from potentially abusive men. “We can help seize these opportunities by ensuring that inequity doesn’t keep them from having access to technology in first place,” wrote M. Gates.

This past year brought a host of surprises and curveballs that I did not expect, and neither did the Gates apparently. But it brought us one step closer to breaking down gender inequalities and fight for a more equal world in general.

This piece will end with the ending of their letter, focused on the power of optimism in our society. Because there can never be too many optimists.

“Optimism can be a powerful call to action… the more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”

Menu Title