Bill at a North Carolina high school in 2009
In his annual letter released this morning, the world's richest man indicates money is not necessarily


Bill Gates Prepares to Give Away a Few More Billion

Bill at a North Carolina high school in 2009
In his annual letter released this morning, the world's richest man indicates money is not necessarily a problem this year. Unlike last year, when Bill Gates said his charitable Seattle foundation had lost 20 percent in 2008 - more than $6 billion and as much as $11.5 billion over a 16-month period - he is silent on any similar losses in 2009.

If he dropped a billion or mere hundreds of millions, it wasn't worth mentioning. (And though he does mention a new movie that includes him, the nerdy billionaire didn't acknowledge he reportedly was "rocking out" and dancing on a couch at Sundance over the weekend).

"The global recession hit hard in 2009 and is a huge setback," Gates notes in 2nd Annual Letter of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which, according to its latest tax filings holds a world-leading $29.7 billion in foundation assets (the Gates' personal fortune is thought to be about $40 billion after losing $18 billion in the recession). "The neediest suffer the most in a turndown."

Last year, he says, "started with no one knowing how long the financial crisis would last and how damaging its effects would be. Looking back now, we can say that the market hit a bottom in March and that in the second half of the year the economy stopped shrinking...the world will spend a lot of years undoing the damage [but] I am still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead."

That's encouraging news. As they demonstrate daily by giving away their astonishing wealth, the Gateses do much for those who have comparably nothing. A few other letter highlights:

"If we project what the world will be like 10 years from now without innovation in health, education, energy, or food, the picture is quite bleak. Health costs for the rich will escalate, forcing tough trade-offs and keeping the poor stuck in the bad situation they are in today...

"Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded. This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation's size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches. Warren Buffett put it well in 2006 when he told us, "Don't just go for safe projects. You can bat a thousand in this game if you want to by doing nothing important...."

His and Melinda's "working partnership makes it very comfortable for one of us to focus more intently on a particular area but always share what is being learned so we can work together in figuring out how it should fit into the overall strategy. I've always had a strong partner in the work I have done. In the early days of Microsoft it was Paul Allen, and in the later days it was Steve Ballmer...

"The filmmaker Davis Guggenheim, who directed An Inconvenient Truth, has a new documentary about American education coming out this year. Waiting for Superman tells the story of several kids trying to get into schools with high-quality teaching--it's literally a lottery that will decide the fate of these young people. Although I may be biased because I appear in the movie, I think it is fantastic and hope it will galvanize a lot more political will to improve teaching effectiveness."

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