Africa: Our Big Bet for the Future – Bill and Melinda Gates

First published on on 22nd January, 2015

Photo: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 

Africa will be able to feed itself, says the Gates Foundation.

Forty years ago, Bill and his childhood friend Paul Allen bet that software and personal computers would change the way people around the world worked and played. This bet wasn’t exactly a wager. It was an opportunity to make computers personal and empower people through the magic of software. Some people thought they were nuts. But the bet turned out well.

Fifteen years ago, the two of us made a similar bet. We started our foundation in 2000 with the idea that by backing innovative work in health and education, we could help dramatically reduce inequity. The progress we’ve seen so far is very exciting — so exciting that we are doubling down on the bet we made 15 years ago, and picking ambitious goals for what’s possible 15 years from now.

Our Big Bet

The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.

We see an opportunity and we want to make the most of it.

We’re putting our credibility, time, and money behind this bet — and asking others to join us — because we think there has never been a better time to accelerate progress and have a big impact around the world.

Some will say we’re irrational to make this bet too. A skeptic would look at the world’s problems and conclude that things are only getting worse. And we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that a handful of the worst-off countries will continue to struggle.

We can make fighting poverty a priority

But we think the next 15 years will see major breakthroughs for most people in poor countries. They will be living longer and in better health. They will have unprecedented opportunities to get an education, eat nutritious food, and benefit from mobile banking. These breakthroughs will be driven by innovation in technology — ranging from new vaccines and hardier crops to much cheaper smartphones and tablets — and by innovations that help deliver those things to more people.

The rich world will keep getting exciting new advances too, but the improvements in the lives of the poor will be far more fundamental — the basics of a healthy, productive life. It’s great that more people in rich countries will be able to watch movies on super hi-resolution screens. It’s even better that more parents in poor countries will know their children aren’t going to die.

A quick overview of the bet we’re making about the next 15 years

It is fair to ask whether the progress we’re predicting will be stifled by climate change. The most dramatic problems caused by climate change are more than 15 years away, but the long-term threat is so serious that the world needs to move much more aggressively — right now — to develop energy sources that are cheaper, can deliver on demand, and emit zero carbon dioxide. The next 15 years are a pivotal time when these energy sources need to be developed so they’ll be ready to deploy before the effects of climate change become severe. Bill is investing time in this work personally (not through our foundation) and will continue to speak out about it.

We’re excited to see how much better the world will be in 15 years.

Here are some of the breakthroughs we see coming:

  • Child deaths will go down, and more diseases will be wiped out
  • Africa will be able to feed itself
  • Mobile banking will help the poor transform their lives
  • Better software will revolutionise learning

So what will it take to make sure that the lives of the poor improve faster in the next 15 years than ever before?

As we said earlier, it will take innovation in technology and in ways to deliver it to the people who need it most, which is what our foundation works on.

There’s another crucial factor: informed, passionate individuals working together to form effective movements for change. People who care about helping those in the world’s poorest places improve their lives. We call them global citizens. And with this letter, we’re helping to kick-start an effort to recruit tens of millions more of them.

Becoming a global citizen doesn’t mean you have to dedicate your life to helping the poor. It does mean you follow an issue of global importance—whether it’s one we wrote about in this letter, or another, like human rights or governance. You take a few minutes once in a while to learn about the lives of people who are worse off than you are. (In fact, if you’re still reading this far into our letter, you are probably a global citizen.) You’re willing to act on your compassion, whether it’s raising awareness, volunteering your time, or giving a little money. Bill and Melinda Gates in Mapinga, Tanzania, 2011 Improving life for the poor will take contributions from everyone.

There is overwhelming evidence that people care about others who are suffering—when they can see the suffering. Just think of the global outpouring of support whenever a devastating tsunami or earthquake makes the news. The problem is that ongoing tragedies like deadly diseases and poverty don’t make the news. They’re invisible to many of us. And so the caring of millions of people goes untapped.

We hope to help change that. With the effort we’re helping launch, we want to raise the visibility of these problems. We want to give global citizens a way to lend their voice, urging governments, companies, and nonprofits to make these issues a priority.

It is called Global Citizen, and you can sign up at You will be able to get updates on how you can help, share what you’re learning, and connect with other people and organizations who care about similar issues. But being a global citizen is not just about being part of one organization; it’s about being part of a movement made up of many effective organizations including global groups like CIVICUS, Save the Children, the ONE Campaign, ActionAid, Oxfam, and Greenpeace, as well as smaller national organizations from Sri Lanka to South Africa. We hope this effort will help these groups grow, building the movement of global citizens. Their millions of members are also global citizens, working on different global problems.

Global citizens have an especially important role to play this year. In September, the United Nations will agree on a set of goals about what should be done for the poor over the next 15 years. The UN did this once before, in 2000, and it was one of the best ideas for development either of us has ever seen. It focused the world on key measures of how many people get the basics of a productive life: good health and a chance to get an education and make the most of economic opportunities.

We hope the goals adopted this year continue that work. Nearly 1,000 organizations in 130 countries have come together to launch a campaign called action/2015 to make sure they do. But we need even more voices—and by joining Global Citizen, you can add yours. Along with other groups, Global Citizen will be asking their members to hold their leaders accountable for the goals they sign up for in September, particularly those relating to the health of women and children.

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