The 2009 recession was a "huge setback" for the world's poorest people, Microsoft cofounder and Chairman Bill Gates wrote in his 2010 annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "Although the acute financial crisis is over, the economy is still weak and the world will spend a lot of years undoing the damage, which includes lingering unemployment and huge government deficits and debts at record levels," Gates wrote.
But Gates wrote that he is "still very optimistic about the progress we can make in the years ahead." The key to that optimism is scientific and technological innovation.
It's innovation that will make the difference between a bleak future in which donor funds deliver little measurable benefit to the developing world and a bright one, in which governments, nonprofits and private companies can "do a lot more for the same cost," Gates wrote.
Innovation Is the Future
Without innovation, Gates wrote, "the picture is quite bleak. Health costs for the rich will escalate, forcing tough trade-offs and keeping the poor stuck in the bad situation they are in today." The poor will be hurt both by rising energy costs and the impact of climate change, and the poor will suffer food shortages, he wrote.
"However, I am optimistic that innovations will allow us to avoid these bleak outcomes," Gates wrote. "In the United States, advances in online learning and new ways to help teachers improve will make a great education more accessible than ever. With vaccines, drugs and other improvements, health in poor countries will continue to get better, and people will choose to have smaller families."
"With better seeds, training and access to markets, farmers in poor countries will be able to grow more food," he wrote. "The world will find clean ways to produce electricity at a lower cost, and more people will lift themselves out of poverty."
He said innovations in malaria prevention and vaccines saved a million children's lives between 2005 and 2008. In 2005, 10 million children under the age of five died. In 2008, the number was below nine million -- "huge progress," Gates said.
The Bill and Melina Gates Foundation has emphasized improvements in vaccine delivery through the GAVI Alliance, which has pioneered the creation of a "pentavalent vaccine," which immunizes against hepatitis B, HiB, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. GAVI is currently working on vaccines for rotavirus, which causes diarrhea, and for pneumococcus, which causes pneumonia. The rotavirus vaccine could save 225,000 to 325,000 lives per year and the pneumococcal vaccine could save 265,000 to 400,000 lives per year, Gates said.
The foundation is also working on innovations more clearly related to technology, like distance learning, teacher evaluation, and even agriculture. Gates called for improvements in teacher evaluation systems, so they actually help teachers, schools and systems improve.
"A new system requires more than just taking the test scores of the students and seeing how they improve after a year with a teacher. It also involves things like feedback from students, parents and peer teachers and an investment of time in reviewing actual teaching," he wrote.
New Blog Announced
"Tools like video can be used so that a teacher can send peers a video showing him trying to do something hard, like keeping a class focused, and ask for advice. Instead of people coming into the classroom, which is quite invasive, a webcam can be used to gather samples for evaluation," Gates wrote.
While praising the development of online education, Gates wrote that the foundation wants to support innovation that takes it to the next level and beyond. "We need to bring together the video and interactive pieces for K-12 and college courses. We should focus on having at least one great course online for each subject rather than lots of mediocre courses. ... A teacher can watch and learn how to make a subject more interesting. A teacher can assign subsets of the material to students who are behind and finding something difficult. A teacher can suggest online material to a student who is ahead and wants to learn more. A teacher can assign an interactive session to diagnose where a student is weak and make sure they get practice on the areas that are difficult for them. Self-motivated students can take entire courses on their own. If they want to prove they learned the material to help qualify for a job, a trusted accreditation service independent from any school should be able to verify their abilities."
Gates also announced his new web site, www.gatesnotes.com, which sounds like a blog. "This will let me share thoughts on foundation-related topics and other areas on a regular basis," he wrote. "I expect to write about tuberculosis, U.S. state budgets, creative capitalism, and philanthropy in Asia, among other things. The trips I will document will include Nigeria, to check on the status of polio eradication; northern India, to understand more about improving vaccine coverage; and school visits in the United States."