Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, challenged global leaders today in his fourth annual letter to invest in innovations that are accelerating progress against poverty, or risk a future in which millions needlessly starve.
The letter describes remarkable progress in the developing world and makes the case to continue investing in efforts that have made a difference for millions of the world’s poorest people. Over the past 50 years, for example, the percentage of the population living in poverty has fallen from 40 percent to 15 percent, or about 1 billion people. Gates believes it is possible to continue the progress, but only with innovative investments in areas like helping small farmers grow more food, which is the best way to fight hunger and poverty among the poor.
“The world faces a choice. By spending a relatively little amount of money on proven solutions, we can help poor farmers feed themselves and their families and continue writing the story of a steadily more equitable world,” Gates writes in the letter. “Or we can decide to tolerate a very different world in which one in seven people needlessly lives on the edge of starvation.”
Gates argues that whether it’s fighting plant disease, treating people with AIDS, or getting a polio vaccine to a child in a remote area, modest investments make a huge difference.
“Our guiding principles for those investments are the same as for agriculture: innovation is the means, and equity is the end goal,” said Gates drawing on a number of successes to illustrate progress.
Difficult economic times are causing leaders and publics around the world to question their aid commitments, but Gates believes it’s more important than ever that we stick to those commitments so we can help people build self-sufficiency and overcome the need for aid.
In line with his report delivered at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France last November, Gates underscores the importance of new resources and expertise that rapidly growing countries like Brazil, China, and India bring to development. He reflects on the expanding role of the private sector in improving the lives of the poor, and the importance of smart partnerships that can help poor countries move beyond aid.
The letter outlines other key priorities for the foundation in 2012, including helping to eradicate polio, supporting the fight against AIDS, improving education in the United States, and improving the health of mothers and children through family planning.
Gates also announced the first Gates Vaccine Innovation Award recipient in his letter, praising the innovative work of health official Dr. Asm Amjad Hossain, for his success in increasing immunization rates in two Bangladesh districts by registering pregnant women. “While it may seem like a small innovation, it shows how looking at old problems in new ways can make a profound difference,” says Gates.
He cited the success of India, which just this month marked one year without identifying a single case of wild poliovirus. It was only three years ago that India had more polio cases than any nation. This is a major milestone for global polio eradication and for children’s health worldwide.
Gates unveiled his letter in South London at a meeting with students at a high school, where he thanked its students and hundreds of others from around the globe for submitting their own letters. He went on to discuss its content with a gathering of international development students at the London School of Economics, hosted by the Global Poverty Project at the launch of their new UK global poverty ambassadors program.
To view the letter, click here.