Last year, Bill and Melinda Gates debunked some of the myths surrounding international assistance and development.

In 2015, they are using their annual letter to place what they call “Our Big Bet for the Future.”

That Big Bet is that the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster over the next 15 years than at any other time in human history – and their lives will improve more than anyone else’s during that period.

Four breakthroughs

It’s a bold prediction, especially at a time when several of the world’s poorest countries remain so heavily burdened by disease, civil strife, food scarcity, and other grave challenges.

How can the world win this bet? With breakthroughs in four crucial areas: health, agriculture, the financial sector, and education.

The driver of these breakthroughs may be summed up in a single word – innovation.

We live at a time when innovation, of all kinds, is both accelerating and becoming more accessible.

As Bill and Melinda Gates note, agricultural information is reaching more and more African farmers by mobile phone, allowing them to receive up-to-the-minute weather and market data.

Meanwhile, rapidly improving electronic-learning systems will give students from Nairobi to Nashville access to world-class lectures and educational software – and will allow teachers to focus on more intensive, individualized instruction.

Innovations in partnership

But the breakthrough innovations are not only technological – they are also organizational.

One such innovation is the public-private partnership. Agreements between companies, government agencies, and philanthropic foundations can result in funding streams that reduce market risks and unleash the unique innovative capacities of the business sector on behalf of the world’s poorest people.

We have recently seen such partnerships make solid contributions in global health, such as the candidate Ebola vaccine that GSK is developing in partnership with a consortium of governmental and non-profit entities.

Another example is bKash, a Bangladeshi company that provides mobile financial services. Our foundation has made grants to bKash to help it expand its mobile-payment platform and mitigate market risks.

These partnerships epitomize innovative thinking to me. They will serve as powerful catalysts for further innovations that will deliver life-altering breakthroughs for the people that need them most.

Winning the bet

The results will be historic. Africa will be able to feed itself. The outright elimination of an entire disease – an undertaking so difficult that it has happened only once so far – could happen again, multiple times, in the decade-and-a-half to come.

In short, Bill and Melinda Gates see a future in which humanity’s rapidly growing capabilities allow us to address some of our most intractable challenges. I find this both ambitious and credible.

Let’s do all we can to make these breakthroughs, win this bet, and seize the historic opportunities before us.

Author: Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann is the Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Read the 2015 Annual Letter from Bill & Melinda Gates at

Image: Children play soccer during a soccer classes at the Sao Carlos slum in Rio de Janeiro May 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares