Bill and Melinda Gates add climate change and gender equality to their foundation’s focus

Bill and Melinda Gates, co-founders of the world’s biggest private foundation, said fighting climate change and promoting gender equality will be prominent issues in their philanthropy going forward.

In a letter marking the 20th anniversary of the foundation’s inception, the couple said that climate has emerged as a key issue for the Microsoft Corp. co-founder, while gender equality has become a focus for his wife.

The foundation plans to work on technologies for lowering carbon emissions –- including ideas that can provide zero-emission energy cheaply to low-income countries –- and on ways to help vulnerable populations like subsistence farmers adapt to climate change.

“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,” wrote Bill Gates, ranked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as the world’s second-richest man.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has almost $47 billion in its endowment, including funds from Gates’ friend and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. founder Warren Buffett, and has granted more than $50 billion. The foundation has historically worked on improving global health and U.S. education and has more recently begun investments in climate and gender-equality programs.

Melinda Gates identified a need for more women in leadership roles in government, finance technology and health. She also emphasized the importance of tackling barriers that females from all backgrounds face, such as unpaid labor and gender-based violence.

Harder Life

“No matter where in the world you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl,” she said.

The couple reviewed successes and failures in their two decades of global health philanthropy in areas like vaccination, malaria and AIDS prevention. Bill Gates reinforced the importance of promoting global health to the foundation.

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

The foundation plans to fund work on family planning, maternal and newborn health and new ways to prevent malnutrition.

Its other main funding objective, U.S. education, has seen less success than its work on health, Melinda Gates said.

“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,” she said. “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.”

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