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My Annual Letter: How We Measure Impact to Improve Lives

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Annual Letter 2013

My Annual Letter: How We Measure Impact to Improve Lives

Today I am launching my Annual Letter. This year, I concentrate on the power of clear goals and accurate measurement—simple concepts really—to improve the lives of the poorest people around the globe. It may not be the sexiest of themes, but the proof of its impact is undeniable. The lives of the poorest have improved more rapidly in the last 15 years than ever before.  During that time, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been reduced by half—extraordinary progress in a short period of time. 

A core reason for that remarkable progress was the world’s commitment to setting clear goals and identifying the right measures to drive progress towards those goals. Since Melinda and I started our foundation, I’ve seen how powerful measurement can be used as a tool to guide our work for the world’s poor. When you do get it right, you can do powerful things. You know what’s working and can work on scaling the best solutions. You know what you’re doing wrong and can course-correct. And when you’re done, you can be confident of the impact of each intervention.

As it turns out, setting clear goals and finding the right measures are just as important for governments trying to figure out how to spend their aid budgets. As I say in the letter: “Historically, aid was largely discussed in terms of the total amount of money invested. Now that we're more precisely measuring indicators like child mortality, people are able to see the impact aid has in stark terms—that it’s the difference between putting people on AIDS treatment or letting them die.”

Not only do clear goals and measures allow governments to spend their aid money more efficiently, it builds the political will to continue funding aid programs by proving how successful they are. It’s not just about governments giving other governments taxpayer money; it’s about one community helping another raise itself out of poverty. 

The world can accomplish really big things when we unite around clear goals and develop the measurements to gauge progress. One of the best examples of how that works is the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) that the UN set in 2000. The MGDs are a set of eight specific goals that are an unprecedented global effort to meet the needs of the world’s poorest by 2015. While we won’t reach all of the goals, the progress we’ve made toward each is staggering. The MDG target of reducing extreme poverty by half has been reached ahead of the deadline, as has the goal of halving the proportion of people who lack access to safe drinking water. 14,000 fewer children around the world are dying every day than in 1990. The number of mothers who die during childbirth has been reduced by almost 50 percent since the goals were set.

And that's what my letter is about. I hope that you’ll read it and engage with our first ever digital experience. Learn more, share it with your friends, and get involved by visiting the Gates Foundation.

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