What Bill Gates Is Focusing On In 2013

In his annual letter, the billionaire looks to the year ahead in his quest to end disease and poverty in the developing world, as the Millennium Development Goals loom.

It’s here: Bill Gates’ annual letter for 2013, where the entrepreneur and philanthropist tells us everything he’s thinking about how the world is doing and what we should look forward to in the coming year. The overall theme of this year’s letter, Gates writes, is using measuring tools to “improve the health and welfare of more of the world’s people.” Below, an overview of what Gates is thinking about.


The Millennium Development Goals

In 2000, a group of countries and development institutions agreed to work on eight millennium development goals (MDGs) to be achieved by 2015: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, improve maternal health, achieve primary universal education, promote gender quality and empower women, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other disease, ensure environmental sustainability, and create a global partnership for development. Basically, they wanted to save the world.

We are far from achieving these goals, but Gates is hopeful. He points out the goal of cutting extreme poverty by half was reached before its deadline, and conditions for over 200 million slum dwellers have gotten better (that’s more than the target). And while we will fall short of cutting the number of children who die before age five by two-thirds, Ethiopia is on track to make the target thanks to sweeping health reforms.

Gates describes the scene when Melinda Gates visited the country in 2009, where she “saw how these health reforms were transforming the country. Where health services were once nonexistent, rural areas had health clinics stocked with vaccines and medicine. Where once there was little local health expertise, Melinda learned how health workers delivered babies, administered vaccines, and supported family planning.”

Ending Polio

Polio is, according to Gates, a major priority for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as “a powerful example of the importance of accurate measurement. When organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization got together with a variety of countries in 1988 to work on eradicating polio, the disease was still a big problem. Today, the only three countries that haven’t eliminated polio are Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In Nigeria, for example, it is due to multiple factors, including settlements missing from vaccinators’ maps and lists and inaccurate distances measured between villages.

Now, Gates is confident that measurement can wipe out polio once and for all; vaccinators traversed Nigeria’s villages and added 3,000 communities to their lists, and they’re using satellites to make more accurate measurements. Gates writes: “The measurement systems put in place by the eradication initiative will be invaluable for other health care activities, including routine vaccination of infants, which means the legacy of polio eradication will live beyond stopping a disease that once paralyzed over 400,000 children every year.”


Did you know that more than 90% of teachers get no feedback on how they can improve? Up until a few years ago, neither did Bill Gates. Since he has a whole foundation backing his indignation, he decided to do something about it: In 2009, the Gates Foundation funded a project called Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) that spent time with 3,000 teachers to figure out how to create an effective evaluation and feedback system. That project ended in January 2013 with several recommendation for teacher measurement.


In Colorado, these measures are beginning to be implemented. Eagle County observes it teachers nine times and evaluates them three times throughout the year (teachers and principals all contribute to this). Says Gates: “I think the most critical change we can make in U.S. K-12 education is to create teacher feedback systems like the one in Eagle County that are properly funded, high quality, and trusted by teachers. These measurement systems need to provide teachers with the tools to help support their professional development. The lessons from these efforts will help us improve teacher education programs.”

The Future

Gates has two big concerns for the coming years: ensuring that the impacts of aid are measured and highlighted and aligning the world around common, clear goals. As Gates notes: “The MDGs were coherent because they focused on helping the poorest people in the world. The groups that needed to work together on the MDGs were easy to identify, and they could be held accountable for cooperation and progress. When the UN reaches agreement on other important goals like mitigating climate change, it should consider whether a different set of actors and a separate process might be best for those efforts.”

Check out the full Gates letter here.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more