Thursday, February 20, 2020

"Why we swing for the fences" - Gates Foundation Annual Letter 2020

Gates Foundation's annual letter is a must read for all of us. Its not only reflects the work of Gates foundation but also a ray of hope and guiding light for humanity as a whole. The areas which foundation focus on Global Health, Education, Climate, Gender equality are so critical to the human progress that even a small improvements there will be huge jump for humanity.

Below are some of the important lines from the report. I would suggest to go through the entire report and read the same. Gates Foundation Annual Report - 2020


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

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.

Altogether, our foundation has spent $53.8 billion over the last 20 years.

we were shocked to learn how many children in low-income countries were still dying from diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines that were widely available in countries like the U.S. It drove home for us that the challenges of poverty and disease are always connected.

We worked with the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and UNICEF to create Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Gavi brings together governments and other organizations to raise funds to buy vaccines and support low-income countries as they deliver them to children.

By 2019, Gavi had helped vaccinate more than 760 million children and prevent 13 million deaths. It has also succeeded in bringing more vaccines and supplies into the market while lowering prices. For example, a single dose of the pentavalent vaccine, which protects against five deadly infections, used to cost $3.65. It now costs less than a dollar.

In 2002 we helped support the creation of a new organization called the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. It had a similar goal to Gavi’s: to deliver medicines, technologies, and programs that save lives in low-income countries. It was also risky for all the same reasons.

But just like Gavi, the Global Fund has proven to be a tremendous success. In 2018 alone, nearly 19 million people received lifesaving HIV treatment in countries where the organization invests.


Today we’re focused on longer-lasting preventatives. Imagine if, instead of having to take a pill every day, a person could get one injection every other month, an implant in his or her arm, or even a vaccine to entirely remove the risk of getting the virus.

The reality is that in the fight against HIV, biomedical interventions alone will never be enough. Our response also needs to reflect what matters to people, what’s keeping them from seeking prevention and treatment services, and why the tools that prove effective in clinical trials don’t always make a difference in the context of their everyday lives.

We know, for example, that across southern and eastern Africa, adolescent girls and young women account for a disproportionate number of new HIV infections. Poverty, violence, and gender norms all play a role in why.

Our foundation has also partnered with a U.S. government-backed program called DREAMS, an acronym for Determined Resilient Empowered AIDS-Free Mentored and Safe. As the name suggests, the program takes a broad approach to HIV prevention. It also addresses, for example, financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and ending gender-based violence—all of which can help women and girls live healthy, thriving, and HIV-free lives.

Global health will always be a core focus of our foundation. This work will only become more important in the future, as climate change makes more people susceptible to disease.

we will continue to support progress on other diseases, like malaria, tuberculosis, and polio (through our partnership with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative). We’ll fund new advances in family planning and maternal and newborn health, and we’ll explore new ways of preventing the scourge of malnutrition.

On Education

Bill and I always knew that our foundation’s U.S. work would focus mostly on K-12 and postsecondary education.

Both of us had the chance to attend excellent schools, and we know how many doors that opened for us. We also know that millions of Americans, especially low-income students and students of color, don’t have that same opportunity.

If you’d asked us 20 years ago, we would have guessed that global health would be our foundation’s riskiest work, and our U.S. education work would be our surest bet. In fact, it has turned out just the opposite.

In global health, there’s a lot of evidence that the world is on the right path—like the dramatic decline in childhood deaths, for example. When it comes to U.S. education, though, we’re not yet seeing the kind of bottom-line impact we expected. The status quo is still failing American students.

Consider this: The average American primary school classroom has 21 students. Currently, 18 of those 21 complete high school with a diploma or an equivalent credential (which is a significant improvement since 2000), but only 13 start any kind of postsecondary program within a year of graduating. Only seven will earn a degree from a four-year-program within six years.

But there’s no consensus on cause and effect in education. Are charter schools good or bad? Should the school day be shorter or longer? Is this lesson plan for fractions better than that one? Educators haven’t been able to answer those questions with enough certainty to establish clear best practices.

It’s also hard to isolate any single intervention and say it made all the difference. Getting a child through high school requires at least 13 years of instruction enabled by hundreds of teachers, administrators, and local, state, and national policymakers. The process is so cumulative that changing the ultimate outcome requires intervention at many different stages.

Proud of our Gates Millennium Scholars Program, which provided full college scholarships to 20,000 students of color.

So how exactly can we equip students with the tools they need to learn and thrive? We found out early on in our work that students need clear and consistent standards in order to master what they’re learning from year to year.

We bet big on a set of standards called the Common Core. Nearly every state adopted them within two years of their release. But it quickly became clear that adoption alone wasn’t enough—something we should’ve anticipated. We thought that if states raised the standards the market would respond and develop new instructional materials that aligned with those standards. That didn’t happen, so we looked for ways to encourage the market.

After teachers told us they had no way of knowing whether a textbook met the new standards, our foundation backed a nonprofit organization called EdReports, which acts like a Consumer Reports for instructional materials. Now, any teacher can look up a textbook to see if it is high-quality and aligned with the standards. Schools have started purchasing more of the materials that best serve their students based on these reviews—and manufacturers, in turn, have begun creating more and better textbook options.

Beyond textbooks, we knew we needed to find other ways to better support teachers and students.

It’s that scaling solutions is difficult. Much of our early work in education seemed to hit a ceiling. Once projects expanded to reach hundreds of thousands of students, we stopped seeing the results we hoped for.

Our work needed to be tailored to the specific needs of teachers and students in the places we were trying to reach.

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

Rather than focus on one-size-fits-all solutions, our foundation wants to create opportunities for schools to learn from each other.

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.

On Climate

One of the things I noticed on many of those trips was how little electricity there was. After the sun set, entire villages plunged into darkness. I remember seeing unlit streets in Lagos where people huddled around fires they had built in old oil barrels. I also remember thinking we should do something about this.

“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, 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.

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.

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.

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.

But even if we succeed in increasing crop yields, the reality is that climate change will make it harder for many people to get the nutrition they need—which will, in turn, make them more susceptible to disease.
“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.”

On Gender

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

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.

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.

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.

To make this time different, we need to make bold attempts at new solutions that will dismantle inequality by pulling three levers simultaneously.

First is fast-tracking women in leadership positions in critical sectors like government, technology, finance, and health. When more women have a voice in the rooms where decisions are made, more of those decisions will benefit all of us.

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

There are over 200 million women in developing countries who do not want to get pregnant but are not using modern contraceptives. When women are able to time and space their pregnancies, they are more likely to stay in school, earn an income, and give each of their children the care they need to thrive.

working to advance women’s power and influence in the U.S. through a company I started called Pivotal Ventures. Last October, I announced that Pivotal Ventures will commit $1 billion to accelerate gender equality in the U.S. over the next decade, an investment that I hope is seen as a vote of confidence in the experts and advocates already working on these issues

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.

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.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Report 2020

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Taking India back to stone age - Stripping Girls in Bhuj's College Hostel

 This is the mission statement of Sahajanand Girls Institute. What I see here is a grandiose vision, which if we compare with recent stories come out from there, is anything but true. Reading this reminds me of Voltaire's lines, "the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire".

Firstly, "quality education of global standards"? What is happening is not anywhere related to global standards; "based on current advances in science, technology and societal demands"; current advances in science? well, current is referring to which century? "Self development and empowerment of girls through modern, scientific and value based education"; is this degraded life is the empowerment, modernity and scientific level they are talking about?

College has about 1500 students of which, 68 coming from remote villages are staying in hostels. To give you the perspective, Kutch is the biggest district in India and the land is challenging for humans. Kutch is 1.17 times bigger than entire state of Kerala, but the population is 1/16 of Kerala. Population density of Kutch is just 46/km square.

Current spiral of events started with complaint from hostel rector to principal. As per the complaint, some girls had been violating their religious norms for menstruating females. 

According to norms,
menstruating females are barred from entering temples and kitchen
Forbidden to touch other students etc.

On that unforgiven day, while attending lectures hostelers were called from classrooms and queued up outside. Principal asked about girls who had periods, two were stepped aside. But this dreadful saga didn't stop there, all were taken to washroom, had their undergarments removed; so that teachers can check whether they are menstruating or not. 

In any western country this action results in million-dollar lawsuits and civil or probably even criminal proceedings against teachers and school. Well, this is India here probably after a routine police investigation (that also if the degree of protests is high) things will settle soon.

What we need to have is a complete overhaul in society’s outlook towards menses and menstruating women. As the case is with current India, this is not something which society (especially women) should consider as shame or themes to be suppressed or put aside. This is a biological cycle and one of the most important towards the very survival of humanity. If society can worship shiva lingams, keep it in temples and homes; celebrate marriage and birth of a kid then why stigma related to menses?

This is something which social reformers of India should take up. Unfortunately, what current India has are keyboard warriors who very often forgets the present and took pride in an India which is built on their fantasies. Sri Narayana Guru, Jyotiba Phule, B R Ambedkar, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Baba Amte, Vinoba Bhave, Mother Teresa are long gone and there is hardly anyone to take up their work.

By the way, you can blame everything on patriarchal society and men; but in this case, I will blame women (or at least a major portion) as well. Hostel warden is a woman, so as the principal, and VC of university with which this college is affiliated. Let's see whether someone will act.   

As per Mirror's report, one trustee even told, "We run a charitable organisation and take token fee. As the institute has a temple on campus, the girls have been instructed to follow the sect’s rules. However, what happened to the students is unfair. Action will be taken". What this statement means, if the fee is less, students should go through all this?

Report states that, another trustee “told them that they could take legal action but would have to leave the hostel first. The students were also allegedly made to sign a letter claiming that “nothing had happened in college”” – The Print

These incidents are neither rare nor happening for the first time. Before also we saw reports from Kasturba Gandhi School in UP (in 2017) and this is not going to be the last time as well. Question is whether, we as society is ready to accept menses as what it is and not as shame.



1. 68 girls in Kutch institute hostel forced to undergo ‘strip’ - TOI
2.68 girls in Bhuj college forced to remove undies, prove they weren’t menstruating - Ahmadabad Mirror
3. In Gujarat college, 68 girls forced to remove underwear to prove they weren’t menstruating – The Print.

"Ask not what your country..." Road construction by Vizag's Tribals

Tribals on road construction - Photo courtesy : TOI
Andra Pradesh - first state to be formed based on lingusitc lines in post independent India in 1953; and probably the first state to be divided along pre-independent lines later. One state which can boast off best Biriyanies and Chillies. Recently, the state is confused about how many capitals it need. One (Amaravati), two (Vizag, Amaravati) or three (Vizag, Amaravati and Kurnool).

While, whole scale confusion became the mark of government on what to do with capitals, high court bences and former cheif Minister; people at Visakhapatnam's agency areas had no such problem. They were clear, lets build a road on their own and see what comes later. Tribals (Muka Doras, Konda Doras, and Kondus) of nine villages took their equipments built 7 km road in 3 weeks.

Its not that government did nothing. Way back in 2018-19, under NREGS 40 lakh INR was sanctioned for this road. Due to some reason it didn't happen. As tribals realized roads are highways for better life, especially for emergency care and other essential services they came forward and did what is necessary.

After this news came out, project director for Integrated Tribal Development Agency stated that, this project will be brought under NREGS and involved tribals will be paid for (as news papers often don't follow up the news they publish, we may never know whether they were actualy paid for or metal road was constructed later).

This pattern is something which this country can look forward. Beneficieries are coming together, pooling their resources and completing the task. We can see the same pattern earlier in rennovating (I would rather say recreating a lake at Ukkadam, Coimbatore, Tamilnadu).

Important thing is one should not wait for government to do everything for them, like the tribals of Andra or people of Coimbatore we can also come together, take up a project and finish it.

If I modify John F Kennedy's statement a bit, "And so, my fellow Indias: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country".


1. Andhra Pradesh's 'Mountain Men and Women' make own road : TOI

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Delhi Election Results - BJP need to move away from Hyper-nationalism and hyper-religionism

Arvind Kejriwal led AAP is going to rule Delhi for another 5 years. Victory of AAP is not unexpected but the scale with which they won is so high that even AAP might not be expecting that much. 

What made this election so uncomfortable for people who believe in India and her progress in 21st century is hyper-nationalism boosted with hyper-religionism of BJP campaign. 

For a long time, we tried decoupling India with Pakistan in world scene. To an extent we won also. Unfortunately, for last few years, every day tv programs in prime time, election campaigns are doing double work to couple the same again. We hear Pakistan and religion more often than pollution and jobs in Delhi. 

While economy is taking a nosedive; unemployment figures are the highest in four decades; future is looking grim we are getting pumped up with religion and nationalism. 

Another thing which is clear in these elections are, vote banks are slowly disappearing; at least in some states. Congress vote share was high in Lok Sabha elections. However, INC didn't even open an account in assembly elections. At the same time, BJP got Delhi in general elections; people clearly voted for Modi as prime minister, but all assembly elections can't be fought on Modi's popularity. Local leaders need to emerge.

Those who are afraid that hyper nationalism, hyper-religionism and BJPs version of socialism are taking over India; Delhi elections are a breather. Electricity, water, education, health care, economy, jobs etc do matter. 

BJP needs to do an introspection and move away from current campaign style. Branding all opponents as anti-nationals and calling people from other religions as jihadi is not going to work always.

INC need to work double time to bring their house in order. Inter party dirty politics is not going to give them any votes from general public.

For AAP welfarism not backed with a revenue model is not good for the health of state economy.