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Love, Bill

Bill Gates has come over all chatty. On Monday he released his second annual letter about his philanthropy, on the back of his recent debut on twitter (where he is ‘following’ Matthew) and new thinking-aloud blog the Gates Notes.

We argue in the book that philanthrocapitalists need to be transparent about their work if they are to be legitimate. Gates has come in for a lot more challenge and criticism in the last year – some in the global health sphere still think he is too focused on technology and his work on education reform in America is drawing fire from teaching unions – so this is a welcome response.

The messages of the letter were clear. Gates celebrates the potential of philanthropy to drive innovation by backing high-risk initiatives that might take 15 years to come to fruition, from an anti-malaria vaccine to a new framework for assessing teachers’ performance. He also dedicates a long section of the letter to “Rich Countries’ Aid Generosity”. Despite being the world’s biggest private donor, Gates’ philosophy is very much that he will only succeed if his giving can lever the much larger sums available to governments. In his letter he throws his weight behind President Obama’s plan to double America’s aid, while blasting Italy as “uniquely stingy” and expressing “huge disappointment” that Italian Prime Minister Sergio Berlusconi turned down his personal appeal for more aid spending.

The big gap in the letter, as Matthew explains in an article for The Economist, is the lack of discussion (except on aid) of the political obstacles confronting his work. For next year’s letter, perhaps?