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Ten Enlightenments from Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter for 2019


The Annual Letter for 2019 from Bill and Melinda Gates, founders of our institute, gives us many unexpected incentives, among which the following ten aspects are the most prominent:

1. Philanthropy’s conscious responsibility for grand social responsibility.

People often think that philanthropy only plays a complementary role and does not need in-depth research and observation on social issues. However, besides the nine biggest surprises mentioned in the letter, we can feel the enormous social responsibility that philanthropy should voluntarily take. For example, Bill and Melinda reminded us that in the next 40 years, the world will build an entire New York City every month, requiring abundant steel and cement. So how do we not exacerbate climate change in this situation? This may need a sustainable development model and adjustment in human lifestyle.


Attention to the grand issues of human society has inspired philanthropy to treat our projects and their development directions from a broader perspective, including precise poverty alleviation, rural revitalization, toilet revolution, and definition and development of a better life. All in all, we should pay attention to more significant global challenges and explore more specific governance approaches; 


2. An interesting phenomenon can be found when looking at Chinese demographic regional structure from “Africa is the youngest continent” - old cities and young villages.


Although we can see from the general data that China’s urbanization rate has exceeded 50%, due to the special household registration management system and the different ownership structures in urban and rural areas, there are still significant many policy differences between rural and urban areas objectively. For example, even in single-child policy period, rural areas generally used conditional second-child policy, which has led to rejuvenation of rural population. “Migrant workers” are actually the basic force of urban construction and services. 


In the social pattern of household registration separation, however, even if migrant workers have worked in the city for more than 20 years, their children are still peasants in their hometown and need to return for college entrance examination. Some cities also include urban villages, where suburban people have many inconveniences to go to work downtown.


Then, can we adjust the urban and rural construction method with “migrant workers” as a link in a certain way? Since the government has issued many policies to facilitate transformation, can philanthropic programs cooperate with the government more closely and conduct certain exploration to promote more operational actions?


3. The concept of solving social problems with science and technology. 

In January 2019, Mr. Bill Gates was selected among “the top 10 global thinkers of the last 10 years” by an American magazine, and one of his outstanding ideas was to use scientific inventions to solve social issues. In the past, we always relied more on institutional and policy reforms to solve social issues while lacking attention to the connection between technology and social issues. However, Bill and Melinda reminded the world that “toilets haven’t changed in a century”; Bill also introduced a “toilet fair” held in Beijing in 2018, a great promotion for the toilet revolution that China is promoting. 


In fact, we are also surprised to find that Bill still has considerable time to work on the invention of “global philanthropic products”, which includes new toilet - these patents include killing mosquitoes with laser, quality guarantee equipment for vaccines and milk, and improvement of the food, etc. Inspired by this idea, can we think about this: can we explore technological innovation to solve many social issues encountered by Chinese philanthropy?


4. Innovation of reading and textbooks. 

This is very inspiring idea. The book list that Mr. Gates shows annually has already played an important leading role in the world, and the judgment that “textbooks are becoming obsolete” this time is also a far-sighted vision for the future development of learning and education. How to read? How to explore the modernization of teaching materials? It seems that the choice of tools is very important. This requires us to think about innovations in learning methods and educational methods. Can philanthropy conduct cutting-edge exploration in this field?


5. “There’s a nationalist case for globalism”. 

This is actually a combination of patriotism and internationalism in Chinese context. Melinda gave a good point that there is nothing about putting your country first that requires turning your back on the rest of the world. Indeed, the process of globalization has developed to an important stage with everything interconnecting to link the economic and social affairs of all countries. The earth has gradually become a community of shared future for mankind. Many cases in recent years have shown that some infectious diseases, whether for human or livestock, have a global impact. An important value of Chinese civilization is the view of the world. Our philanthropy endeavors also need to further promote this value and promote international philanthropic cooperation with a more open mind.


6. “You can learn a lot about processing your anger from teenage boys” and professionalization of philanthropy. 

Unexpectedly, Bill actually attended a meeting of teenagers talking about anger management. In his opinion, it’s an important life skill, part of becoming a mature adult. He also reflected when he was harsh in life and at work. This will also be inspiring to us philanthropy practitioners. It seems that the professionalization of philanthropy needs particularly the professionalization of philanthropy practitioners. Although we have considerable experience, we still need to learn new things, especially to learn multiple new things including anger management from young people, especially teens.


7. Help more people to fully understand how to stop climate change.

This is an environmental protection issue that Bill commented from a completely different perspective. He made us realize that climate change includes biodiversity and marine protection. In addition to policy promotion, we need to find good ways to informing more people as this is a common cause for everyone in the world. In other words, we should further improve working methods of advocacy and communication of climate change, thereby consciously promoting breakthrough inventions to promote industrial upgrading and changes in production methods and lifestyles. There is so much to do for philanthropy - at least, popularity of knowledge is a weak link and global cooperation in knowledge communication is very necessary!


8. Deep understanding of Giving Pledge and promotion of broad cooperation among world philanthropists. 

As everyone knows, Bill and Buffett have jointly initiated Giving Pledge, hoping that philanthropists with missions in different countries will establish cooperative relationships through certain forms of giving pledge and work together on a wide range of philanthropic projects. In the past, people had misunderstandings that such activities were held to donate to Mr. Gates. In fact, this is a complete misunderstanding as Gates Foundation donates billions of dollars each year for philanthropic projects around the world. What Bill wants is that more like-minded people can cooperate and communicate with each other and meet every year to make philanthropic projects more effective with more positive social impact. For example, Gates Foundation’s poverty alleviation project in China is committed to cooperation with the government. If such information can be shared more with Chinese philanthropists, I believe it will have greater effect!


9. Data can be sexist. 

Bill and Melinda reminded that there is also gender discrimination in data. In fact, it is not just data, but also many other daily phenomena that are easily overlooked and need our attention. For example, there is no toilet paper in many public toilets in developed cities and even primary and secondary schools and universities. Many primary school students drink less water at school because of the poor toilet environment, and even dump the water brought from home and tell parents that they have already drunk the water. This can lead to serious negative impact. What about data in other aspects? Are there statistics of parents who abuse their children? Is child protection an individual case, or it needs establishment of systems and facilities? Such data and research are still quite inadequate, and cooperation between philanthropy and relevant governmental departments is needed!


10. Improving the information platform for philanthropic communication, and showing more innovations and dedicators in an optimistic manner. 

Bill and Melinda built their optimism on the dedication of many people’s wisdom, resources and even lives. So how can we display it better? How to find the power of role models from communities around? How to promote the spirit of volunteerism via our own actions? All these require a more complete information platform for philanthropic communication for proper display so that positive energy could be continuously spread.


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