Bill Gates has posted his 4th annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, detailing his ideas about global humanitarian aid and his plans for the foundation in the coming year. While the foundation’s efforts will be broad-based, as always, Gates emphasized the importance of innovation in agriculture as a means of helping the world’s most impoverished people become self-sufficient.
Gates began by pointing out the grand scale of the task at hand – 1 billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty. Though he pointed out that this is down from 40% of the population, as it was in the ’60s and ’70s, Gates remained on message that there is still work to be done, and that letting up cannot be considered.
Gates’ decision to lead with agricultural innovation was because of malnutrition’s negative effects on health, making people more susceptible to disease. Gates expects big things from the private sector, but acknowledged that those private entities need the money to make real change happen. With governments tightening up their wallets in the face of the current economic crisis, that’s happening less and less, which Gates suggests is a costly mistake. He references new and damaging strains of plant diseases that are decimating crops and partially causing the current famine in the Horn of Africa, but says that innovation in science and technology can help turn things around, pointing to heavy research into plant genetics and crop engineering as a means of producing disease-resistant crops. Examples of rice crops that can survive floods and the work of leading scientists in Africa are provided to show that there are very real reasons why these endeavors need more money, and quickly.
Gates went on to discuss disease control, both successes and failures. He lauded India’s success in marking a full year without a recorded case of polio before talking about the progress that has been made and the progress that needs to be made in addressing AIDS and malaria worldwide. He wrapped up that section by stressing family planning programs as a means to curb population explosions in developing countries that could put a dangerous strain on existing resources.
To wrap up, Gates turned inward to discuss education in the United States, expressing surprise that 95% of teachers indicated that they were not subject to peer review at their jobs. He stressed the need for this as a means for teachers to improve their performance in the classroom, along with research into how to leverage the Internet, social networking, and cutting edge technology in the classroom to encourage student learning.
The key word throughout the letter was innovation, in all areas – an astute claim, given how many new technological toys our society has to play with right now. Innovation doesn’t just mean creating more of them – it means figuring out new ways to maximize their usefulness, too. You can read the whole letter from the link below – it’s a great read outlining the most pressing issues of our time, and a coherent vision on how to at least go about trying to address them.