You’d be hard-pressed to pick a well-known figure who is more involved in either the tech world or the world of philanthropy than Bill Gates. But what do tech and philanthropy have to do with each other? At the start of this year, Bill and Melinda celebrated fifteen years of running their foundation. Bill laid out some thoughts on the next fifteen years in a great video interview and also explained how his role in technology has informed his approach to philanthropy. As this year draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back on Gates’ thoughts. From health and agriculture to education and money, Gates seems passionate about the idea that advances in technology will provide the keys to unlocking a better future for the world.
A thread that runs throughout Gates’ entire vision is that of helping poorer countries to become self-sufficient rather than trying to apply bandages to their problems. At every turn, he seems committed to building lasting changes rather than justthrowing money at a problem. When asked about what kind of oversight there might be for sending genetically-modified crops to poorer countries, Gates says his foundation’s goal would be to train and fund commissions for countries so that they can test and review products themselves for safety.
He addresses any misgivings about GMOs by comparing them to medicines. He hopes to make sure that safety reviews for GMOs are performed in the way they are done for medicines. Countries will rarely refuse medicines that have gone through a sufficiently rigorous safety review, and it should be no different for GMOs. He also notes that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation could incentivize companies producing these GMOs to provide a more affordable pricing tier for less developed countries, much as has also been done in medicine.
Gates also argues that growing the productivity of poor and under-producing countries – like many of the African countries – is essential to helping them catch up with first world countries. Not only will it help third world countries start up their own production, but it will also increase the availability and production of food worldwide. Like writing software, he says, it’s better to provide people with tools to solve their problems than to simply try solving their problems for them. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life, as the proverb goes.
Gates discusses the need for an overhaul in payment-processing and electronic transactions. He believes that developing mobile payments and microtransactions could provide poor people with access to financial institutions.
Overall, I can very much appreciate Bill Gates’ desire to help the under-privileged and needy in the world with the gifts and prosperity he has enjoyed. I find his view commendable on the role of philanthropic institutions as risk takers that can step in where governments and corporations can’t or won’t. It’s hard to find anyone with whom you can ideologically agree on everything, and Gates is no exception. But he’s level-headed and generous with his time, talents and money, nonetheless. His optimism is contagious, and it’s not hard to imagine the world becoming a better place for the many contributions he has made, both in industry and in philanthropy.