Bill Gates is perhaps better known as one of the richest men in the world and a great philanthropist, but what people often underestimate is his in-depth knowledge and understanding of just about any subject matter you can throw at him. Gates talks to New African about aid, how his Foundation works, what we can learn from China and gives his insights into whether we should be worried about technology taking over our jobs.
We have seen a change in emphasis recently, with the G20, for example, focusing on their new ‘Marshall Plan’ and the UK’s DfID driving development through private sector engagement, while your Foundation puts an emphasis on overcoming the most basic of needs. Are you seeing a shift in priorities in terms of the aid agenda?
Well, the end goal is always to have economies develop. There are middle-income countries that are completely self-sufficient in that their tax collection is funding their health, education and other human development indices.
There are public goods that only the public sector can provide. I think the two biggest impacts that aid has had is that it has funded new tools – like vaccines or in agriculture; and two, it helps these governments build the delivery systems such as a good primary healthcare system. So, yes, you want to enable the private sector, a thriving private sector is far larger than the government.
In terms of the Foundation, though, do you see yourselves retaining focus on similar issues or areas as you have done over the past 15 years or so?
Yeah, we always fine tune it a little bit, but our biggest focus by far has been health, and will be health. Health for us also includes access to contraception and nutrition, as well as tackling the big infectious diseases.
The second biggest area for us is agriculture; but it is a lot smaller – about a sixth of the size of our health spending.