Gates Foundation Annual Letter – Tracking progress using data

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Bill Gates says in the Gates Foundation Annual Letter, let’s improve the health and living conditions of the world’s poorest people by running it like a business. Track the data. See where results happen and where they don’t. Then modify plans as needed. Gates uses polio vaccination as an example. By tracking and analyzing where vaccinations did or didn’t happen they can better insure that everyone gets one. He says ” I think a lot of efforts fail because they don’t focus on the right measure or they don’t invest enough in doing it accurately.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is actively trying to end polio, improve sanitation and health care in desperately poor areas, and much more. Their work is saving lives. They say every great fortune conceals a great crime but other than the occasional Blue Screen of Death, that doesn’t really apply to Gates. Seriously.

Skeptics point out that we have a hard time delivering new tools to the people who need them. This is where the innovation of using measurement is making a big difference. The process I have described-setting clear goals, picking the right approach, and then measuring results to get feedback and refine the approach continually-helps us to deliver tools and services to everybody who will benefit. This innovation to reduce the delivery bottleneck is critical. Following the path of the steam engine long ago, progress isn’t “doomed to be rare and erratic.” We can, in fact, make it commonplace.


  1. Reading this, one wonders how Europe eradicated the plague and cholera without Microsoft products tabulating data. So too, polio and smallpox eradication in the US and elsewhere. By Gates’ standard, none of that was possible.

    Are we really so dumb that common sense things like public sanitation need to be justified with mountains of data as yet uncollected? Last I checked, WHO and other orgs do a pretty good job collecting data on all manner of public health issues. In the US, we’ve had public health departments doing all this for a very long time. But the reason we aren’t making more progress isn’t a dearth of data, it’s diversion of public resources away from public health matters and towards the bank accounts of billionaires like Bill Gates. In the US, sewer systems all over the country are dilapidated largely because we have to keep giving the Gates’ of the world more tax cuts.

    Indians know perfectly well why their water isn’t clean enough. Perhaps if Bill were to donate a billion or so installing new water systems in Bangalore, the data might improve?

    • Read what the Gates Foundation is doing. They already are giving away billions, including funding for sanitation and water in impoverished areas. . His plan is that in fifty years or so, all $70 billion of the foundation money will be spent.

      By next year they will have given 16,000 scholarships to high schools students from poor families who have high grades and leadership skills. It’s not just for college. They can go to law school or medical school and the Foundation will pay for it.

      • That’s a fair point. But what I was reacting to was the notion that they were somehow reinventing the wheel or something. Data collection is a technocrat’s hobby horse. By itself, it’s meaningful up to a point.

        Of course, the best way to reduce poverty is to reduce inequality. Yet it’s that very inequality that gave the Gates’ $70 Billion to pay with. So while one class of people is busy creating poverty and keeping the poor poor, some of them then create foundations to undo a small part of what they’ve created in the first place.

        Just as one example:

        Young adults have lost TWO-THIRDS OF THEIR NET WORTH since 1984.
        21- to 35-year-olds: Your median net worth has dropped 68% since 1984. It’s now less than $4,000.

        That $4,000 has to pay for student loans that average $27,200. Or, if you’re still in school, for $12,700 in credit card debt.

        With an unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds of almost 50%, two out of every five recent college graduates are living with their parents. But your favorite company may be hiring. Apple, which makes a profit of $420,000 per employee, can pay you about $12 per hour.

        Before off-shoring to China, Steve Jobs was worth about $900 MIllion. Ten years later, he was worth $8 Billion. That’s all from exploiting the poor in authoritarian countries. Lo and behold, those people are all still dirt poor. Gates, of course, made a lot more than that. Add in Wal-Mart, etc. and those folks have all done a great deal to create poverty in the US and elsewhere.

        So it’s nice that Bill and Melinda are helping some people out. But in the end, they’re still not giving back what they took in the first place. Only a part of it. But it sure does make for a nice brochure, doesn’t it?

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