QUESTION: Does the Gates Foundation fund projects in the United States?
BILL GATES: Yes, we are heavily interested in initiatives in the US. We established the foundation with the intention of addressing the world’s most serious injustices, wherever they may exist. Globally, the suffering of the world’s poorest people, beginning with the one billion who survive on less than $1 a day, reveals the greatest inequities. We believe that our resources can make a significant difference in their lives.
Approximately 25% of our foundation’s resources are spent in the United States, primarily to reform our education system, which has some of the most significant imbalances in the country. Despite the fact that education beyond high school is critical for success in today’s market, only around one-third of U.S. students graduate from high school with the abilities required for college. So we’re attempting to improve teaching, boost educational standards, ensure that more students graduate from high school, and ensure that more college students earn their degrees.
How do you select and prioritize development projects?
Outside of the United States, the foundation’s work focuses first and foremost on the most difficult difficulties confronting the world’s poorest billion people. For example, not having adequate food or having your children die before reaching the age of five. Even if your children live, they may suffer from chronic conditions. We typically choose items that we believe will have a major influence on the poorest people’s living conditions.
Then we define measurable targets and hunt for initiatives that will assist us attain those criteria. In agriculture, for example, we want to help Africa treble farm productivity. This would be a significant boost that would make a significant effect. When deciding which agriculture projects to prioritise, we consider the crop being improved, the percentage of farm production it represents, if it is realistic to treble productivity, and the impact it would have.
Some aspects, though, are more subjective, such as the work we’re funding to provide more people with adequate flush toilets. We haven’t conducted a grand experiment in which we gave some people super nice flush toilets while leaving others with their current crummy toilets and then measured how much of a difference that makes in their lives, just how bad your life is if you have a primitive toilet and your house stinks and nobody wants to marry your daughters, or whatever. We simply sort of determined, based on some very fundamental human ideals, that people should have a good toilet and not have to wait for expensive infrastructure that may never arrive in the poorest portions of developing-world towns. So we encourage creative labour to reinvent the toilet.
How do you measure the success of the foundation’s development projects?
It depends on our function and the project at hand. We are frequently the largest backer of upstream medical invention, such as the development of new malaria treatments and vaccines. The only other major funder is the National Institutes of Health in the United States. Measuring success is straightforward. Is there a malaria vaccine? Is there a TB vaccine?
When it comes to providing health services, such as vaccinations or AIDS medications, we work with a bigger group that includes the Global Fund, GAVI, and governments. We measure success by increasing the percentage of people who receive services and decreasing the pricing of drugs and immunisations.
One of our long-term goals is to minimise the death rate among children under the age of five. Over the next 15 years, we hope to cut it in half. In the meantime, we examine intermediate indicators that we know are critical to accomplishing that long-term aim. Is the new vaccine being used and administered successfully in this country, or is it languishing and spoiling somewhere along the distribution chain?
How do you talk to or teach your children about the issues you are passionate about?
One method is for them to accompany us on our journey. When we take them to Africa, they witness the difference between an urban slum and a rural thatched house. They understand that dwelling in America must be pricey. They’re curious, so they question why it’s so expensive, if that will ever change, and how horrible does it feel to live in a slum or a thatched hut.
They, like everyone else, are taken aback when they first witness how the world’s poorest people live. Wow, this is definitely different; I think I’ve taken certain things for granted, such as running water, a flush toilet, grass in the yard instead of mud, and enough food every day.
It allows them to meet new individuals. If they go to an orphanage and talk to some of the kids there, they might notice that this youngster is quite happy because he recently received a crutch to help him walk. They think to themselves, “Oh, geez, I’ve never had to worry about something like that.”
They are of varying ages, but they will learn about the larger challenges and the science involved over time. They want to see things that they are studying at school. My kid is taking an African history class, therefore she has a lot of questions about it. My youngster is fascinated by politics, democracy, and the upheaval in many countries. He wants to know why some countries have done better than others, such as why Turkey is wealthier than Egypt.
They have their own hobbies, things they’re enthusiastic about, and we attempt to assist them learn more about those things.