Gates Foundation to Spend $3.8bn in 2009

SAN FRANCISCO ~ Retired Microsoft founder Bill Gates went public this week with his love for philanthropy and a call for the world’s wealthy to ramp-up giving in these tough economic times.

In a 10-page letter posted online, Gates gave an overview of progress, goals and challenges at the foundation he and his wife founded with a portion of their wealth and a hefty donation from billionaire Warren Buffett.

Gates began working full time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation after leaving Microsoft in July last year.

“I love the work at the foundation,” Gates wrote in a letter posted as part of an annual report for the organization. “The common sense of the business world, with its urgency and focus, has strong application in the philanthropic world.”

Gates said the foundation was in strong shape despite collapsing financial markets reducing by 20 percent the investments funding its efforts.

The foundation spent US$3.3 billion, approximately seven percent of its assets, in 2008 and will increase that figure to $3.8 billion this year, according to Gates.

“I believe that the wealthy have a responsibility to invest in addressing inequity,” Gates said.

“This is especially true when the constraints on others are so great. Otherwise, we will come out of the economic downturn in a world that is even more unequal, with greater inequities in health and education, and fewer opportunities for people to improve their lives.”

Gates expressed confidence that the economic storm will be calmed in five to 10 years due to innovations in fields such as software, genetics, materials science and energy generation.

About half the foundation’s spending goes to a Global Health Program devoted to combating 20 diseases.

Top targets being notorious children-killers diarrheal illnesses, pneumonia and malaria, as well as AIDS and tuberculosis which more often slay adults.

Foundation goals include halving the number of child deaths caused by rotavirus and helping poor farming households in Africa and South Asia boost incomes with improved harvests.

The foundation is also aiming to raise the performance of US public schools by the year 2025 to the point where 80 percent of students graduate with education levels readying them for success in college.

Since its inception in 1994, the foundation has committed nearly $20 billion to its philanthropic priorities. Its endowment as of October 1, 2008, was $35.1 billion.

“The opportunity to gather smart, creative people into teams and give them resources and guidance as they tackle the challenges is very fulfilling,” Gates wrote.

The notoriously private software pioneer said his new job comes with the added benefit of getting to work with his wife, whom he met at Microsoft.

“We didn’t get to work together as peers like we do now,” Gates wrote.

“She and I enjoy sharing ideas and talking about what we are learning. When one of us is being very optimistic, the other takes on the role of making sure we’re thinking through all the tough issues.”

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