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Why We Swing for the Fences.

Why We Swing for the Fences


Twenty years after starting our foundation, we’re just as optimistic about the power of innovation to drive progress.

By Bill and Melinda Gates

February 10, 2020

Reflecting on the first two decades of our foundation

When we started our foundation 20 years ago, the world was, in many ways, very different from the one we live in now. It was before 9/11, before the Great Recession, and before the rise of social media.

Then, as now, there was no shortage of worthy causes, and there was a good argument to be made for investing in many of them. We’d known for a while that we wanted to give away the majority of our wealth from Microsoft and use it to make people’s lives better. The challenge, of course, was how to do that in a meaningful and high-impact way.

As we were thinking about what our philanthropic priorities would be, we spent a lot of time meeting with experts and poring over reports. What we learned convinced us that the world should be doing more to address the needs of its poorest people. At the core of our foundation’s work is the idea that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life. Twenty years later, despite how much things have changed, that is still our most important driving principle.

“At the core of our foundation’s work is the idea that every person deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life.”

There is no question that this new decade is beginning at a time of tremendous unrest and uncertainty around the world. But even in a moment as challenging as this one – in fact, especially in a moment like this one – we remain committed to supporting advocates, researchers, government officials, and frontline workers who are making a healthy and productive life possible for more people in more places.

For the last 20 years, our foundation has focused on improving health around the world and strengthening the public education system in the United States because we believe that health and education are key to a healthier, better, and more equal world. Disease is both a symptom and a cause of inequality, while public education is a driver of equality.

We know that philanthropy can never – and should never – take the place of governments or the private sector. We do believe it has a unique role to play in driving progress, though.

At its best, philanthropy takes risks that governments can’t and corporations won’t. Governments need to focus most of their resources on scaling proven solutions.

Businesses have fiduciary responsibilities to their shareholders. But foundations like ours have the freedom to test out ideas that might not otherwise get tried, some of which may lead to breakthroughs.

As always, Warren Buffett – a dear friend and longtime source of great advice – put it a little more colorfully. When he donated the bulk of his fortune to our foundation and joined us as a partner in its work, he urged us to “swing for the fences.”

That’s a phrase many Americans will recognize from baseball. When you swing for the fences, you’re putting every ounce of strength into hitting the ball as far as possible. You know that your bat might miss the ball entirely – but that if you succeed in making contact, the rewards can be huge.

That’s how we think about our philanthropy, too. The goal isn’t just incremental progress. It’s to put the full force of our efforts and resources behind the big bets that, if successful, will save and improve lives.

To be clear, the risks we take are different from the ones the true heroes of global progress take all the time: the health workers who brave war zones to get vaccines to children who need them, the teachers who sign up to work in the most challenging schools, the women in the world’s poorest places who stand up against cultural norms and traditions designed to keep them down. What they do requires personal sacrifices we never have to make – and we try to honor them by supporting innovations that might one day make their lives easier.

Altogether, our foundation has spent $53.8 billion over the last 20 years. On the whole, we’re thrilled with what it’s accomplished. But has every dollar we’ve spent had the effect we’ve hoped for? No. We’ve had our share of disappointments, setbacks, and surprises. We think it’s important to be transparent about our failures as well as our successes – and it’s important to share what we’ve learned.

In 2018, I visited North-Grand High School in Chicago. The school serves students from neighborhoods that struggle with violence, hunger, and other challenges. It used to be ranked among the worst schools in the city.

Then, North-Grand joined the Network for College Success. Armed with data and lessons learned from the other schools in the network, the school changed the way it serves its ninth graders.

If you’re a freshman, your first day now starts with a teacher who helps you with organizational skills, college planning, and how to use your school laptop for assignments. An online portal lets you check your grades every day. Every five weeks, you sit down with a counselor to understand how you’re doing and where to go for help if you need it.

The school’s approach worked. Last year, 95 percent of North-Grand freshmen were on track for graduation – and the school was ranked one of the best in the city. Many of the other schools in the network have adopted similar programs and experienced similar progress.

Rather than focus on one-size-fits-all solutions, our foundation wants to create opportunities for schools to learn from each other. What worked at North-Grand won’t work everywhere. That’s why it’s important that other schools in other networks share their success stories, too.

Melinda: The last 20 years have only deepened our commitment to advancing progress on global health and public education. But we’ve also developed a major sense of urgency around two other issues. For Bill, it’s addressing climate change. For me, it’s gender equality.

As we look ahead to the next 20 years, we will be swinging for the fences on these, too.


That phenomenon we witnessed – which is called “energy poverty” – is a real problem for 860 million people around the world. Our modern world is built on electricity. Without it, you are (quite literally) left in the dark. So, I started talking to experts about the issue and what could be done.

Two facts quickly became clear. First, the world would become a richer, healthier, and more equitable place if everyone had reliable access to electricity. Second, we need to find a way to make that happen without contributing to climate change.

When Warren urged Melinda and me to swing for the fences all those years ago, he was talking about the areas our foundation worked on at the time, not climate change. But his advice applies here, too. The world can’t solve a problem like climate change without making big bets.

Tackling climate change is going to demand historic levels of global cooperation, unprecedented amounts of innovation in nearly every sector of the economy, widespread deployment of today’s clean-energy solutions like solar and wind, and a concerted effort to work with the people who are most vulnerable to a warmer world. That won’t happen unless we decide what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.

In other words, we need a plan.

The good news is that we already have the ambition to get things done and goals to work toward. The ambition is evidenced by the amazing activism around climate, including last fall’s climate strikes. As for the goals, we can thank the Paris Agreement and all of the countries, cities, and states that have made bold commitments to zero out emissions by 2050.

So, what should the plan to meet that zero-emission goal look like? The answer is as complicated as the problem we’re trying to solve. But the short version breaks down into two buckets: mitigation and adaptation.

Mitigation is all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The key to making that happen is a combination of deploying the things that work now and lots of innovation to create and scale the technologies we still need.

When people talk about solving climate change, they usually focus on reducing emissions – which is a good thing! We need zero-carbon alternatives in every sector of the economy, many of which don’t exist yet. Mitigation is, by far, the biggest challenge we need to figure out, and it’s great to see so much energy being put into how to zero out emissions. (I’m also hopeful that the innovation being done in this space will help provide electricity to more people.)

But solving climate change will require more than just mitigation. We also need to take on adaptation.

People all over the world are already being affected by a warmer world. Those impacts will only get worse in the years to come. The cruel irony is that the world’s poorest people, who contribute the least to climate change, will suffer the worst.

No one will be hit harder than subsistence farmers, who rely on the food they grow to feed their families and already live on the edge of survival. They don’t have the resources to withstand more droughts or floods, a disease outbreak among their herds, or new pests devouring their harvests. At 4 degrees Celsius of warming, most of sub-Saharan Africa could see the growing season shrink by 20 percent or more – and that’s just an average. In areas with severe droughts, the growing season could get cut even shorter.

The result will be less food, for both the farmers themselves and others who rely on the crops they grow and sell. More kids will suffer from malnutrition, and the already enormous inequity between the rich and poor will get even worse.

The Global Commission on Adaptation (which I’m co-chair of) recently released a report outlining steps that governments can take to support farmers in the decades to come. I’m also hopeful that our foundation’s work on agriculture will play a key role in helping farmers withstand climate change. Over a decade ago, we began funding research into drought- and flood-tolerant varieties of staple crops like maize and rice. These new varieties are already helping farmers grow more food in some parts of Africa and India, and more climate-smart crop options will become available in more places in the years to come.

The best thing we can do to help people in poor countries adapt to climate change is make sure they’re healthy enough to survive it. We need to reduce the number of children who become malnourished and improve the odds that people who do suffer from malnutrition survive. That means making sure that people have access not only to the nutrients they need but also to proven interventions like vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics.

Melinda: In addition to the foundation’s 20th anniversary, this year marks another milestone I’ve been thinking about a lot lately: the 25th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women. (If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you may know it as the event where Hillary Clinton famously declared that “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”)

I remember reading about the conference and feeling that the world had planted an important stake in the ground for women. But it took years before I recognized how gender equality would fit into my own work.

After Bill and I started the foundation, I began spending time with women in the world’s poorest places. I wrote a lot about those trips in my book, The Moment of Lift, because they changed everything for me.

I met a woman who asked me to take her newborn home with me because she couldn’t imagine how she could afford to take care of him. I met sex workers in Thailand who helped me understand that if I had been born in their place, I, too, would do whatever it took to feed my family. I met a community health volunteer in Ethiopia who told me she once spent the night in a hole in the ground rather than returning to her abusive husband – when she was 10 years old.

Each one of these women represents millions more. And what makes their stories even harder to bear is the knowledge that, unless we take action, they are stories that are destined to repeat themselves. Because if there’s one thing the world has learned over these last 25 years, it’s that these problems are not going away on their own.

The data is unequivocal: No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl.

In developing countries, the experiences of boys and girls start dramatically diverging in adolescence. The average girl in sub-Saharan Africa ends her education with two fewer years of schooling than the average boy. One in five girls is married before her 18th birthday, trapping her on the wrong side of a power imbalance even within her own home.

Meanwhile, in high-income countries, gender inequality tends to be most visible in the workplace. Even though women in the U.S. earn college and graduate degrees at higher rates than men, they tend to be concentrated in certain majors and are often channeled into less lucrative jobs. Men are 70 percent more likely to be executives than women of the same age. These numbers are even worse for women of color, who are doubly marginalized by the combined forces of sexism and racism.

The reason the pace of progress for women and girls has been so glacial is no mystery. It’s the direct result of the fact that – despite the valiant efforts of activists, advocates, and feminist movements – the world has refused to make gender equality a priority. Global leaders simply have not yet made the political and financial commitments necessary to drive real change.

When the world comes together to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Conference at the Generation Equality Forum later this year, it will, I hope, do a lot to generate energy and attention around gender equality. But this time, we need to ensure that our energy and attention are converted into action.

But we can’t stop at top-down change or focus only on women in some fields. We also need to bring down the barriers that women of all backgrounds encounter in their everyday lives. For example, the fact that there’s an estimated 27 percent gap in workforce participation between men and women around the world. Or that our economies are built on the back of women’s unpaid labor. Or that, globally, one in three women is the victim of gender-based violence, one of the most common human rights abuses on the planet. Each one of these barriers makes it harder for a woman to achieve her dreams for herself or contribute her talents and ideas to her community.

Lastly, because gender inequality is an issue that touches almost every aspect of society, any response must be broad-based, too. We need to be deliberate about galvanizing a wide range of partners to play a role in changing society’s norms and expectations – not just the activists and advocates who are already leading these conversations, but consumers, shareholders, faith leaders, entertainers, fathers, and husbands.

I’ll admit that when I first started speaking publicly about gender equality, it felt like its own risk. I was deeply aware that our foundation was a latecomer to the issue. I worried about holding my own against the experts and wondered if I was the right messenger for the cause. But I now know that progress depends on all of us speaking up.

As the anniversary of the Beijing Conference approaches, it’s time for government leaders, business executives, philanthropists, and individuals from every walk of life to take concrete steps to put our aspirations for a more equal world into action.

My message is simple: Equality can’t wait.

Looking ahead

When Bill’s mom spoke at our wedding, she said something we’ll always remember: “Your lifetime together will, in the end, be a verdict on your recognition of the extraordinary obligations which accompany extraordinary resources.” Over the last 20 years, we’ve worked to live up to those obligations through our foundation.

When we first started this work, we were optimistic about the power of innovation to drive progress – and excited about the role we could play by taking risks to unlock it.

Twenty years later, we’re just as optimistic – and we’re still swinging for the fences. But we now have a much deeper understanding of how important it is to ensure that innovation is distributed equitably. If only some people in some places are benefitting from new advances, then others are falling even further behind.

Our role as philanthropists is not only to take risks that support innovation but to work with our partners to overcome the challenges of scale in delivering it. We believe that progress should benefit everyone, everywhere.

That’s why we’ve been at this work for the last two decades. And that’s why we hope to continue it for many decades ahead.

swing for the fences 用力挥棒力求打出全垒打,孤注一掷
worthy causes 慈善事业
high-impact a. 高强度的,高影响力的
philanthropic a. 慈善的
pore over (长时间)阅读
scale v. 衡量
fiduciary a. 信托的,受托的
incremental a. 递增的
verdict n. 裁定
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  • 来源:互联网 2020-02-24