Gates Letter: Focus Is on Health, Farming, Banking And Education

January 22, 2015       Patrick Sullivan      

Bill and Melinda Gates have made a big bet: During the next 15 years the lives of poor people will improve faster than at any other time in history, and that their lives will improve more than anyone else’s. “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,” they wrote in their foundation’s annual letter.

The Gates Foundation is predicting the lives of the poor will improve dramatically because of improvements in four arenas: health, farming, banking and education. In the realm of health, the foundation’s prediction is that the mortality rate of children under five will be halved, and more diseases will be eradicated.

Some 9 percent of children in the Third World died before age five in 1990, while that number was 1 percent in rich countries. The mortality rate in poor countries was 4.6 percent in 2013, and the foundation will work to halve that again in the next 15 years. Educating mothers about breastfeeding skin-to-skin contact with their newborns and umbilical cord care, and training health care workers to administer injectable antibiotics and use hand-pumped oxygen masks will help reduce the child mortality rate.

Contraception and more educated family planning combined with more women giving birth in health care facilities instead of at home could reduce the number of women dying in childbirth by two-thirds. The foundation leaders also believes that polio and Guinea worm can be eradicated by 2015, and that HIV and malaria will be on the run.

The continent of Africa collectively imports $50 billion of food per year, despite the fact that 70 percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa are farmers. Yields in Africa are lower than in developed countries and the crops are less nutritious. By 2015, the foundation leaders believe Africa will be able to feed itself. By utilizing new technologies, better fertilizer, crop rotation and new planting techniques, African farmers should be able to increase their yields by 50 percent. They’ll be able to sell their surpluses and buy more and varied foods to supplement their diet. Improvements in infrastructure will improve regional trade as well.

Mobile banking “will give the poor more control over their assets and help them transform their lives,” wrote Bill and Melinda Gates in the letter. They believe that 2 billion people who don’t have a bank account will be storing money and making payments via mobile phone. Microloans help, but the poor need access to more services. Because they have so few assets, the global poor are not profitable for traditional banks, but mobile money providers can turn a profit with small commissions on millions of transactions.

Cell phone penetration is already high in places such as south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya and Tanzania are leading the way for mobile banking in the Third World, and the fastest-growing financial services provider in Bangladesh is a mobile money provider.

Finally, online learning will be a big piece in the improvement of the lives of the poor. It is more interactive than ever, and the foundation predicts it will become even more so in the next 15 years.

While the world has made strides in cutting the literacy gap between men and women nearly in half between 1990 and 2010, 5.2 percent more men than women are literate. “Education is a great leveler. But if the factors that hold girls back are not addressed and if access to education isn’t equal, then education will become another cause of inequity, rather than a cure for it,” read the letter.

None of these efforts will succeed without the efforts of what the Gates Foundation calls global citizens, people who are “willing to act on (their) compassion, whether it’s raising awareness, volunteering your time or giving a little money.” The annual letter kicks off a movement called Global Citizen, where people can sign up at globalcitizen.org to learn more about the struggles of the global poor and take action.

To read the Gates Foundation’s annual letter, visit http://www.gatesnotes.com/2015-annual-letter.