Monday, January 25, 2010

Gates 3.0

Bill Gates released—no, make that tweeted—his second annual letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation earlier today. [That's right. Bill Gates, starting his second year of life post-Microsoft, now has an account on Twitter. Finally. It's @BillGates, he opened it on January 19th, and as of today—after 19 tweets—he's already got 343,218 followers. His Twitter bio: "Sharing cool things I'm learning through my foundation work and other interests..."]

So far, the billionaire philanthropist is following 42 people, including Vinod Khosla, the venture capitalist, celebrity Ryan Seacrest, commentator George Stephanopoulos, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, President Barack Obama, and dynamic data whiz and public health professor Hans Rosling, for starters.

Gates also just opened a Facebook page [60,000-plus followers so far] and launched a personal Web site, called "The Gates Notes: An Inside Look at Global Matters." (He returns to Facebook after quitting the site last year, saying he was getting too many friend requests and had trouble determining who were his friends and who were strangers.) The Gates Notes, meanwhile, devotes sections to "What I'm thinking about" and "What I am learning" along with "My Travels", "Conversations" and "Curious classroom"—a page he devotes to answering questions from students around the world. [One question, from a high school student in Mexico, prompts Gates to sympathize with the sentiment that people don't always take very young entrepreneurs seriously, explaining that he got his start "young"—at the age of 19.] A sixth page, called "Infrequently Asked Questions" features one of the more frequently-asked of Gates in public forums, "Why not focus on global warming?" (Gates answers the question by saying energy issues are perfect for the marketplace to address but not something any foundation should try to do, and elaborates elsewhere on the site.)

Gates's move to social media, like Microsoft's move to the Web, comes late in the game. But Gates-watchers are taking a better-late-than-never stand, saying his conversion will undoubtedly lend his foundation more of a "cool factor" as well as help to further soften Gates's anti-social image.

Oh yeah, and Gates's 2010 annual letter? This year's note to the social innovation world, as last year's (both inspired by mentor and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett's annual letter to shareholders) is nearly 20 pages long, looks at the state of his $34 billion foundation and pledges to continue to give out record amounts of money this year, even though the global economy has hurt its endowment. Here are just a few highlights, below:

* Gates restated that he sees his foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded, and cited the need for new uses of technology, to measure impact more effectiveley so that what works can be replicated globally. (He said the foundation is backing about 30 innovations currently, including vaccines for malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis.)

* Gates cited the San Francisco startup, Academic Earth, as among new education sites that will "revolutionize education" by offering students personalized learning experiences. Academic Earth, called by TechCrunch a "sort of Hulu for education videos," provides a user-friendly platform for educational video that offers courses and lectures from Yale, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, Princeton and others. Gates says his foundation will be investing in online courses that are able to provide interactive applications for children; he says he's also working to ensure that all libraries have computers with Internet access.

* Endorsed President Obama's push to double foreign aid giving, to make sure "the United States will get up into a very respectable range" of giving compared with other wealthy nations. He admonished Italy, specifically, for lowering its foreign-aid budget, saying that in June, he met personally with Prime Minister Berlusconi to make the case for more support, "but I was unsuccessful," Gates wrote. "This is a huge disappointment since I still think the Italian public wants to be as generous as people in other countries."

* Praised the new documentary film about education now airing at Sundance called Waiting for Superman, the story of a several kids trying to get into schools with high-quality teaching. [For more on Gates and his trip to Sundance to support the film, see Bill Gates: Party Animal, in the New York Times blogs today.]

(Photo: From Bill Gates' Facebook page)

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