Economic Progress

Bill Gates Q&A: Fighting corruption, the future of aid

Bill Gates
Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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Economic Progress

During Davos 2014, we asked you for your questions for Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here are his responses.

1. Shamil Sharshek from Facebook asks: What do you think of the view that all these aid efforts are propping up corrupt governments and blocking further development in poor countries?

Corruption is one of the most common reasons I hear in views that criticize aid. I talked a lot about this in the annual letter Melinda and I just released. We certainly need to expose corruption where it exists and be sure we’re getting the most out of every dollar. But it’s also important to keep the size of the problem in context. The misconception that aid falls straight into the hands of dictators largely stems from the Cold War era. Obviously a lot has changed since then and the development sector has got much more sophisticated about measurement.

Take the Global Fund, one of our biggest partners in combatting AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. You may have heard about corruption charges last year involving a bed net programme funded by the Global Fund. But what didn’t get much press is that the Global Fund actually found, fixed and reported the problem itself – exactly what it should be doing.

Small-scale corruption like this continues to shrink over time, especially as the Internet allows for more transparency and accountability. While we should continue to root out fraud where it exists, there is no way to eliminate it entirely. Does that mean we should we stop trying to save lives? Melinda and I certainly don’t think so.

2.    Tim Davies from Facebook asks: What do you think is the best thing that people in the developed world with an average income can do to help your work? I was thinking in terms of specific initiatives rather than in large, general terms.

This is something Melinda and I get asked frequently. I would encourage you to find an organization that speaks to the values and issues you care about. We come across so many in our work at the foundation. ONE, Heifer International and World Vision are a couple of excellent examples. You can sign up with ONE, the group that Bono started. They don’t ask for money – just your voice to help raise awareness and build a case for aid. Through Heifer, you can donate an animal to a community in need – a gift that can benefit the recipients for years afterwards. Through World Vision and Save the Children, you can change a child’s life by helping provide food, healthcare, education and more. Whatever organization you decide to support, and whether you’re giving your time, voice or money, know that it really does help make a better world.

3.    Medet Suleimen from Facebook asks: What roles do you think organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank should play in development?

I’ve had a few occasions to visit the UN over the last few years, usually around the UN General Assembly, which takes place every September. It’s given me an appreciation for the complexity involved in bringing together so many diverse countries to try and create a shared vision for improving the world. This is one reason why I think so highly of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) created by the UN. For those who don’t know, the MDGs are a report card for the world. They track how the world is doing in efforts to address big problems like extreme poverty, child deaths and infectious diseases.

Even though they haven’t hit all of their targets, the MDGs have been a big success. In fact, I think they’re the best idea I’ve ever seen for focusing the world on fighting global poverty. Unlike a lot of vaguely worded international resolutions, the MDGs came with concrete, measurable numbers to track. The ability to clearly measure progress is the only way to drive lasting success. In some areas, such as lowering extreme poverty, we’re doing quite well and are on track to cut it in half by 2015. In other areas, we’re likely to miss the 2015 goals, but the MDGs have allowed us to know exactly where we’re falling short.

The MDGs were also able to quickly get on the global agenda. I would visit a country like Ghana, and the leaders would be eager to discuss how they were doing on the MDGs. I remember coming to the World Economic Forum and seeing for the first time a series of sessions on health and development. I doubt that would have happened without the MDGs.

To me, this is an incredibly powerful and worthwhile role for an organization like the UN. Helping convene global stakeholders to establish a set of measurable, actionable and consensus-built goals focused on extreme poverty is invaluable.

Bill Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He participated in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014 in Davos.

Image: A girl carries water from a well in a bucket in the village of Synthiane Ndiakri, Mauritania. REUTERS/Susana Vera 

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